CARTHAGE — Anytime Carthage and Indian River suit up and meet on the same football field, you know what to expect. The game is going to be physical, the crowd will be electric and no matter who may be favored, the outcome will be highly anticipated.

That rivalry will continue tonight in Carthage, but this time it has a little more juice. Not quite as much juice as last year’s Section 3 Class A championship between the Warriors and Comets, but more than any other regular-season game either of these teams will play all season.

The 2019 installment of the Fort Drum rivalry could be considered even less predictable than past years. For as fun and dramatic as the matchup has been, Indian River has firmly held onto the rights to call themselves the better team. The Warriors have currently won seven of their past nine games against the Comets dating back to 2013.

But in 2019, Carthage isn’t so much of the little brother. Both teams are ranked top 10 in the state with Indian River (4-0) coming in at No. 4 and Carthage (3-1) at No. 6.

The Comets only loss came in week two to Utica Proctor, an undefeated Class AA team ranked No. 17 in state (also a team the Warriors did not play).

Adding to the intensity are the stakes at hand. There is no denying that either Carthage or Indian River is the favorite to win the Section 3 Class A Division. Sure, Auburn is also state ranked, and you can never look past Whitesboro, East Syracuse-Minoa or Central Square. But everything we’ve seen this season suggests that come Oct. 26, either the Comets or the Warriors will possess that first seed.

A large factor in deciding that outcome will be the result of tonight’s head-to-head game. Other factors could come into play, especially if one of the other Class A teams upsets either Carthage or Indian River in the final three weeks, but more likely than not, the result of tonight’s game could decide who wins the division and gets the No. 1 seed in sectionals.

With that in your mind, there are plenty of pieces to both teams that need to be analyzed.

RUNNING BACKS

Let’s start with running backs. If you are at all in tuned with either Indian River or Carthage Twitter/Instagram, you know what I’m about to talk about. If you’re not — and I suspect the vast majority of people reading this aren’t — I’m talking about Fombo Azah versus Guillermo Rosario-Acosta.

Carthage’s Azah and Indian River’s Rosario-Acosta have each had all-star like seasons and have played critical roles in each team’s respective success.

Azah, a senior, has finally gotten the opportunity to be a lead back and hasn’t disappointed, in four game he has rushed for 607 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Rosario-Acosta has been just as good, rushing for more than 600 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns for the Warriors.

The eccentric Carthage student base known as the Carthage Zoo Crew have been actively promoting Azah as the better of the two, even starting a hashtag, -Fombosbetter.

The debate, which is in good fun, has caught the attention of both running backs.

“Yea, it’s all over social media,” Rosario-Acosta said. “I just stay out of it, we’re just two athletes doing our thing, I just stay out of it.”

“I find it interesting, because [Fombo and I] group together, we went to the same school and now that we play on different teams, people are comparing us to another. I find it interesting,” he continued.

Azah is enjoying the debate and what it brings to the rivalry.

“I think it’s all really fun, it gives us something to think about throughout the day, just some competitive spirit,” Azah said. “And I even think the people who don’t play football are having fun with it as well. It’s kind of like their own college football team here in their hometown, so I do whatever I have to do to make the fans happy, give them some type of entertainment.”

Despite being rivals, there is still a mutual respect between Azah and Rosario-Acosta.

“I see a great athlete,” Rosario-Acosta said of Azah. “He makes plays. We’re just two great athletes competing against each other at this point.”

BATTLE AT LINE OF SCRIMMAGE

Both running backs will get an up-close look at the battle going on at the line of scrimmage. Both offensive lines are experienced groups with Carthage being led by Collin Null and Indian River being led by Garret Decker.

Null and the rest of the Carthage offensive line will have to deal with defensive end Tanner Colvard and defensive tackle Jake Whitmore, not to mention linebacker Joey Martin, who has recovered a few fumbles and has tackled his share of quarterbacks.

“I know they’re good, they’re going to come off the ball fast and you just have to be faster and go harder,” Null said.

On the other end, Colvard is a part of an Indian River defense that was overall inexperienced to start the year — but in four weeks they’ve come into their own. One of the younger players making an impact is Jake Whitmore.

“He’s an animal, that kid is crazy,” Colvard said of Whitmore. “He’s fast, quick. He’ll mess up going a thousand miles an hour, but he’ll still make the play. He’ll chase the ball; he doesn’t give up.”

LEADING UP TO THE GAME

Carthage and Indian River haven’t played any like opponents this season, making it even more difficult to compare the two powerhouses. But they have both played against quality football teams.

In week two, Carthage had the opportunity to play Utica-Proctor (4-0).

“My kids weren’t nearly as worried about Proctor as I was and to be honest, I have learned a lot already in my first year as head coach,” Carthage coach Jason Coffman said. “I kind of gave Proctor a little bit too much credit, and I know it sounds weird because we lost, but I gave them a little bit too much credit and put doubt in my kids’ minds. Which, after we gave up touchdowns on the first two drives then we completely changed the game after that. I think that I learned a lesson that I don’t need to scare our kids, I just have to get them mentally prepared.”

Indian River’s toughest opponent thus far has been No. 17 Auburn in week four. The Warriors won the game, 53-20.

“They’re a really physical team and so is Carthage,” Indian River coach Cory Marsell said. “We left that game, feeling good about ourselves but also we had some guys a little banged up and Auburn did too. I’m sure Whitesboro is right there with everybody just like ES-M, so the league is tough. It’s ridiculously tough this year.”

The Comets are excited to play in what should be a wild atmosphere at home. As Azah put it “people who have been through the school, if they know about our rivalry they’ll definitely be here.”

The Warriors are equally excited to get the chance to again beat the Comets, especially in Carthage.

Azah believes this is just preview of what could possibly be another Section 3 Class A final between Indian River and Carthage.

“I think this game is going to be a preview of what we’ll have in the [Carrier] Dome,” Azah said. “I just feel like we’re going to have this game, both teams are going to learn what they have to fix and we’re going to have an even better game in the Dome.”

It all gets started tonight with kickoff at 7.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

Sports Writer

Beat writer for Section 3 high school football, Frontier League boys and girls basketball, Frontier League baseball and Frontier League softball.

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(1) comment

Fwfigher

An important note. Starting this fall, state high school football playoffs will begin adding at-large teams to fill out brackets in Class AA, A and D. And in its first year, the at-large teams will come from Section III.. The Executive Committee of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association approved a measure to institute a seven-year rotation for at-large teams to fill holes in the three brackets. The move prevents teams in the three classes from receiving an automatic bye into the state semifinals. Which means, IF IR and Carthage meet in the section III final, the runner-up still goes to the state play offs. They COULD meet again the the state final.

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