SYRACUSE — Those who made up a sea of blue-and-yellow T-shirts that filled part of the Carrier Dome crowd delivered a standing ovation for their beloved Gouverneur High School football team as the last seconds ticked off the clock on Friday night, showing appreciation for a historic season despite the pain of the final loss.
Susquehanna Valley engineered three lengthy scoring drives and produced timely plays on defense to beat Gouverneur, 22-0, in the Class C state championship game Friday night in the Dome.
The Sabers (13-0 overall) won their 26th straight game and second consecutive state title, while the Wildcats ended their breakthrough campaign with an overall mark of 11-1.
Gouverneur was playing in the state championship game for the first time in program history.
“The effort was unbelievable all year and I’m proud of our guys,” Gouverneur coach Sean Devlin said. “Back on August 19, I never would have thought that we would be playing the day after Thanksgiving. This one game does not define who we are or who these guys are, the journey to get here should be what defines them overall.”
Junior running back Logan Haskell ran for 214 yards on 34 carries to lead the Section 4 champion Sabers. He scored on a two-yard touchdown run to extend their lead to 16-0 following the successful two-point conversion with 42 seconds left in the first half.
That critical touchdown capped off a 12-play, 86-yard drive that lasted more than five minutes to help Susquehanna Valley assert its control and carry momentum into halftime.
“That was a great drive and it was huge for us, getting the crowd into the game before halftime and then coming out and shutting them down for the rest of the game was a great feeling,” Haskell said.
The Sabers struck first with a touchdown on their opening drive when quarterback Dylan Gaska found Matt Forentino open in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard score on a 4th-and-11 play.
The Wildcats came out firing to start the second half, and picked up 47 yards through the air on the first play from scrimmage when senior quarterback Caleb Farr found Cayden Stowell to set up the Wildcats at the opposition’s 18-yard line, representing its best field position to that point.
Gouverneur eventually drove two yards shy of the end zone before a false start penalty pushed them back, and on a 4th-and-goal play from five yards out later in the series, Farr was blasted by a pass-rusher from behind and lost a fumble to give the ball back to the Sabers.
“There was a spark there but we weren’t quite able to capitalize on it,” Farr said. “They played more physical. We just didn’t seem like we were us today.”
Stowell added: “I was hoping that would start something and maybe carry some momentum over to get some fire under us.”
Susquehanna Valley took the ensuing drive 86 yards for a one-yard TD plunge by senior captain Mitchell Knapp to take a commanding 22-0 advantage with 3:58 left in the third quarter.
“I thought we had a lot of penalties, especially in the second half, that kind of put us behind the chains and against a team like this, you can’t expect to get behind the chains and then recover consistently,” Devlin said.
Gouverneur senior David Baker hauled in a highlight-reel catch midway through the fourth quarter to help the Wildcats drive into the red zone again. Baker gained 35 yards on the reception after the ball seemed to be intercepted by a defender but popped into the air as he went to the ground. The ball took a second bounce off another grounded defender before Baker reached out for the ball to complete the sensational grab.
Senior Adam Srednicki picked off a pass later in the drive to end the series and the Sabers then ran out the clock to secure their second straight title.
“As returning champions they had the experience and they were a little bit more calm and collected,” Stowell said. “They weren’t overwhelmed with the situation or the climate of the arena.”
Stowell was selected as Gouverneur’s Most Valuable Offensive Back after the game while sophomore Kyle Savage was named the squad’s Most Valuable Defensive Back.
The Section 10 champion Wildcats, who haven’t lost a Northern Athletic Conference game over the last four seasons, were supported by hundreds of fans in the Dome. They were also joined by large and energetic crowds throughout their memorable state playoff run that included lengthy trips to Albany and Middletown.
“It’s very humbling and knowing how awesome of a community we have behind us, and they always support us no matter what,” Stowell said. “Even tonight after a loss, they were just real positive and that helps everything.”
Farr added: “That just shows how great our community is and they’re always behind us, supporting us and having our backs in everything we do.”