AVERILL PARK, N.Y. (NEWS10) — La Salle and Averill Park both overcame slow starts to the Section II football season – La Salle opened up 0-2 on the year; Averill Park 1-2 – to become two of the more dominant teams in Class A. The Cadets and the Warriors entered the week 3-0 in league play, and the winner of Friday night’s matchup would claim sole possession of the top spot in the Capital Division.
The two rivals clashed in NEWS10‘s 1st & 10 “Game of the Week,” and this one did not disappoint. The Warriors eked out a 27-21 overtime victory, clinching not only a playoff berth, but homefield advantage in the opening round of sectionals.
And Averill Park had to adapt in the second half to life without its’ star senior quarterback, Nicholas Galuski.
The first half was plagued by sloppy plays, penalties, and stagnant offense. But Galuski injected some excitement into the game late in the second quarter, with the score still 0-0.
The veteran signal caller ripped off a 75-yard scamper with 32 seconds to play in the frame, but he separated his right shoulder on the tackle, and would have to leave the game. Galuski did not return in the second half.
Senior running back Daniel Milanese capped off the Warriors’ drive with a short touchdown run, and they took a 7-0 lead into the locker room.
But the Cadets offense turned things up a notch in the third quarter. They were set up with great field position on their second drive of the frame following a blocked punt. On the very first play of the possession, senior quarterback Adam Myers found his halfback, Will Kelly, out of the backfield for a 24-yard touchdown strike, and just like that, the game was knotted up at 7-7.
On La Salle’s next set of downs, Myers hooked up with senior running back Dontrall Antoine Jr. on a hot pass on fourth down and short, and Antoine Jr. took it to the house from 44 yards out, putting the Cadets up seven.
At that point, it seemed as though La Salle would cruise to victory, considering Averill Park showed no sign of life on offense after the departure of Galuski. That would change on the Warriors’ ensuing possession.
Averill Park head coach Zach Gobel found a rhythm with his run game, and the Warriors marched right down the field almost exclusively on the ground. Junior tailback Charles Ratigan capped off the drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown; senior running back Jacob Phelps tacked on a two-point conversion, and Averill Park had the lead back at 15-14 with 8:53 to play.
The Warriors continued to unleash their rushing attack the next time they had the ball. Ratigan punched in a one-yard score, extending his team’s lead to 21-14. But a failed two-point conversion left the door open for La Salle.
And the Cadets capitalized; Myers led his team right down the field, and on the final play of regulation, fired a 36-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Tommy Miller to force overtime.
La Salle came up empty on the its’ OT opportunity, so Averill Park needed one score – either a field goal, or touchdown – to win the game. The Warriors elected for six. Ratigan powered in a three-yard touchdown run – his third score of the night – to claim his team the 27-21 victory, and send Averill Park straight to the postseason.
Gobel detailed what it took for his team to overcome the loss of Galuski, and emerge victorious against a hungry Cadets squad.
“It took our offensive line believing in what they could do, continuing to work hard, own the line of scrimmage in this game, and our defense made big stops at big times,” said Gobel. “It’s just grinding; we’ve been a little more big-play this year, but this was a game we needed to grind – that’s who we are – so we hit the grind tonight.”
Ratigan attributed his teammates’ second half effort to a strong desire to defeat a rival program, and pick up their injured leader.
“I think playing La Salle boosted our want to win this game by a lot, and I think it showed,” said Ratigan. “What pushed us the most is doing it for Nicholas. I mean, when he went down at the end over there, we were all worried for him. But then we eventually did it for him.”
The Warriors (5-3, 4-0) clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the Capital Division, and they’re guaranteed homefield advantage in the opening round of sectionals. Coach Gobel’s squad closes out the regular season next week on the road against Mohonasen.
La Salle (5-3, 3-1) still sits in a prime position to reach playoffs; the Cadets square off with Amsterdam on the road next week. With a win, they’re in the postseason. With a loss, the two-spot in the division comes down to quarter points between La Salle, Amsterdam, and Troy.