SYRACUSE — Even after Carthage kicker Casey Farrell’s attempted 53-yard field goal was blocked and returned to the Comets’ 18-yard line with 2:12 left in Friday’s football game, Fombo Azah still believed Carthage had a chance to win a state title.
“Even my coach was saying that we weren’t dead until the last minute,” Azah said. “But once they decided to knee (run out the clock), that’s just the way football goes.”
Cornwall (12-0 overall) was able to push across a first down and wind down the clock, winning 30-27 and clinching its second consecutive state Class A title in the Carrier Dome.
“I’m proud of our guys, we handled our loss with class,” Azah added.
The two teams battled throughout with the biggest point differential in the second quarter when Carthage (11-2) led by 12. Carthage led at halftime 21-16. Cornwall, which gained its lead early in the fourth quarter, never led Carthage by more than four points.
Until the fourth, Carthage’s offense equalled Cornwall’s. Quarterback Nick Cavellier orchestrated most of the scoring and finished by completing eight of his 10 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns.
“They were really locked in on Fombo, he’s an amazing player, they have to be locked in on him,” Cavellier said. “That kind of opened up our passing game a little bit.”
Playing in a dome, with no weather effects, led to some of the success as well.
The Comets scored a touchdown on four of their eight offensive possessions, but the final two — when they really needed points — came up empty. After being pinned at their own 11-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter, Carthage was forced punt after going three-and-out. Farrell’s punt traveled 52 yards, but Cornwall still managed to march down the field and eventually pushed across a touchdown to take a 30-27 lead.
With one more attempt at winning the game, Carthage fought its way up the field. The Comets eventually achieved a first down at the Cornwall 28, but a tackle in the backfield and then a sack of Cavellier backed Carthage all the way up to the 36 where Farrell’s attempted field goal was blocked.
The Cornwall defensive front remained solid, and the Comets were tired.
“They just wanted it more than we wanted it in that point of the game,” Comets offensive lineman Collin Null said. “We have guys going both ways and they’re running units so, they had the energy and we were just worn down.”
The teams traded leads multiple times in the second half. The Dragons’ success rode on the shoulders of running back Amin Woods.
Woods, who carried the ball 36 times and finished with 237 rushing yards and five touchdowns, wore down the Carthage defense. The Comets dropped him for a loss only one time.
“He stayed on his feet like a good running back should,” Azah said. “He was dragging our defense and following his blockers. He did his job and that’s what got them their win.”
Only eight of Woods’ 36 carries went for 10-plus yards and only three went for more than 15. For the most part, Woods’ success came in short gains that helped the Dragons move the chains. They picked up 28 first downs compared with Carthage’s 18.
The Carthage defense even forced four fourth downs on the Dragons.
“Defensively, a lot of it can fall on me,” Carthage coach Jason Coffman said. “I don’t know why we couldn’t get stops, or why we couldn’t get our hands on the guy in the backfield like we’ve done so successfully all year. Like I said, congratulations to them, their linemen played really really well.”
For Carthage, this was its first time in a state championship football game. The Comets will graduate 26 seniors.