With each passing week, having any spring sports in 2020 has turned into less of a possibility. No state in America got hit harder than New York State in terms of COVID-19, though the vast majority of cases and fatalities came from New York City and Long Island. Still, schools across the state closed in mid-March and there is no sign that anything will start anytime soon. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association was clear from the outset that no sports practices or games would take place until schools opened, and it would take a week or two of practices before games were even possible, even if it sacrificed state tournaments and it could only take place within sectional borders.
So we will use this space to go back to the seasons that did take place, starting in the fall with football. Few thought when the 2019 season began that C-NS could win a third consecutive sectional Class AA title, given all of its graduation losses from 2018. And in the regular season there were some real struggles for the Northstars, including a loss to rival Liverpool and an upset at the hands of Rome Free Academy. Meanwhile, Utica Proctor and Liverpool emerged as regular-season league champions, and the Raiders easily handled Baldwinsville to earn a shot at its first-ever sectional title. But the Warriors were stunned in the semifinals when C-NS overcame a 28-7 deficit in the second half to stun its archrivals 35-28.
In the sectional Class AA football final, Utica Proctor led most of the way, but C-NS rallied to beat the Raiders 28-25 and get that sectional three-peat. It didn’t end there for Proctor, though, who went into the regional playoffs due to Section III having an at-large berth in the state tournament, and the Raiders led New Rochelle until the fourth quarter before it lost 21-7. C-NS, meanwhile, used a last-second field goal to defeat Corning 24-22 to win a third consecutive regional title, this unlikely run ending again in the state semifinals (just like 2017 and 2018), where the Northstars lost 42-28 to Rochester McQuaid. Ultimately, New Rochelle beat McQuaid in the state title game at the Carrier Dome.
Good as the C-NS story was, Carthage was even better in 2019 on its way to the sectional Class A championship. The Comets lost in September to Utica Proctor and then dominated everyone for the rest of the regular season, capped by defeating Auburn 49-17. Led throughout the fall by running back Fombo Azah, Carthage got a bit more of a challenge from Whitesboro in the sectional semfinals, but still prevailed 48-28 as Azah gained 210 yards and scored three touchdowns. The sectional final, a rematch with Auburn, was even more lopsided than the first encounter, ending 55-7 as Josh Demko returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and Azah took it from there with 249 yards on the ground and four more end-zone trips.
Carthage football did not stop with a mere sectional Class A title, though. In the regional playoffs a week later, the Comets got away from Union-Endicott 38-14 as Fombo Azah’s post-season tear continued to the tune of 221 yards on 33 carries, plus three touchdowns. The state semifinal against Canandaigua saw the Comets’ defense take over, not allowing any points and forcing seven turnovers to key a 16-6 victory over the Braves. Now the Comets went after Cornwall to seek its first-ever state Class A championship, and the game was a classic, Carthage leading 27-23 going to the fourth quarter, but Cornwall getting a late touchdown to win 30-27 and keep the Comets from the ultimate prize.
All season long in Class B football, the compelling story was the rise of Solvay. Despite a mid-summer coaching change, the Bearcats tore through the regular season undefeated, ended a long drought against rival Marcellus 42-35, and then won epochal sectional playoff games over long-time power Cazenovia and then a 42-39 semifinal classic with New Hartford on the strength of an offense led by senior quarterback Brock Baogzzi. Then, in the sectional final, Solvay leaned on its much-maligned defense to hold off Oneida 14-7 and earn the Bearcats’ first sectional title in nearly two decades. Only mighty Chenango Forks stopped Solvay in the regional round as the Blue Devils went on to win yet another state championship.
It wasn’t surprising to see Lowville get to the top of Class C sectional football. So many of the key players on the team, from Chad Bach to the Macuaulay brothers, had helped the Red Raiders reach the boys basketball state Class B final the previous March. On the gridiron, Lowville scored at least 41 points in every regular-season game, slammed Skaneateles 58-26 and Canastota 49-15 in the sectional playoffs and then had no trouble beating Cato-Meridian 41-6 for the title at the Carrier Dome as Bach ran for 247 yards. A week later, in a great regional final, Lowville was outscored 44-36 by Susquehanna Valley, the defending state champions who would repeat that title a couple of weeks later.
In a topsy-turvy Class D football regular season, no team really dominated and everyone lost twice. Amid the muddle, it was Frankfort-Schuyler who finally emerged as champions, shaking off two October defeats to make an inspired post-season run. The Maroon Knights silenced Onondaga 28-6 in the opening round, moved on to the semifinals where it took out Dolgeville, holders of more sectional championships than any other Section III school, 45-20. The defense reclaimed its central role at the Carrier Dome, where Frankfort-Schuyler’s Jeffrey DeSarro threw a touchdown pass and ran for another as his team won 22-6 over Waterville. A week later in the regional final, the Maroon Knights fell to Tioga 43-20.
Eight-man football continues to flourish in Section III and is spreading across New York State as participation numbers wane. And here, no one has come close to toppling Weedsport the last couple of years. With a large enough roster to still play 11-man if it wanted to, the Warriors put up 72 points against Bishop Grimes, 62 against West Canada and 76 against New York Mills in a three-week span, shut out APW 68-0 in the sectional semifinals and, in the title game, won a wild 68-44 rematch with West Canada. the key sequence a second quarter where Weedsport scored four touchdowns. Despite all this success, the Warriors were still scheduled to have eight-man football if the 2020 season takes place.
And now we get to the 2020 season, which will have major changes in Section III football. Class AA is down to a single division, having seen F-M and CBA get moved into Class A, where J-D and Fulton rejoined the fray after a season in the developmental division. More changes took place in the small-school ranks, too, with reigning sectional champion Solvay, plus Cazenovia and Bishop Ludden, all moving from Class B to C and two divisions in both of these leagues. Just as important, there could be up to nine regular-season games in Class AA that take up all of September and October, with sectional and state playoffs both moved back a week and the state finals on the first weekend of December, not Thanksgiving weekend.