STILLWATER, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The week started in sorrow for the Stillwater football team after losing senior center/linebacker Anthony Cocozzo for the season with a torn ACL. But it ended in jubilation, as the Warriors played Friday night with the thought of their captain heavy on their minds, and put forth a near-perfect game, blanking reigning Class D champion Cambridge/Salem 40-0 in our 1st & 10 “Game of the Week.”
“I mean, we lost him early in the week; it happened in practice, and we just had to respond,” said freshman offensive/defensive lineman James Cocozzo of his brother Anthony. “We’re a good team, and they’re a great program. We made a statement.”
That statement was heard on both sides of the ball, beginning with the defense, which pitched its’ second shutout of the season, and recorded six takeaways – four of which came from Cocozzo, who tallied three fumble recoveries and an interception.
On the other side of the ball, Stillwater established a steady rushing attack from its’ opening drive. Senior quarterback Jaxon Mueller led the way with three rushing scores and 105 yards on the ground on 15 carries. He worked in tandem with senior running back Lukas Lilac, who reached the end zone twice, and racked up a game-high 145 rushing yards on 20 totes.
The Warriors scored touchdowns on their first three drives to immediately put Cambridge/Salem on its’ heels. Mueller punched one in from 10 yards out, and Lilac opened the second stanza with a seven-yard scamper. Stillwater opened up the playbook on drive No. 3. Mueller hoisted his first pass of the game down the near sideline, and hooked up with Thomas McDonough on a 40-yard gainer after a ridiculous, circus-catch from the senior wideout. That put the Warriors in the red zone, and on fourth and goal from one-yard line, Mueller just plowed his way in for six to grow the lead to 20. It’d stay that way heading into halftime.
After some sloppy play to open up the third quarter – lost fumbles ended two of the first three combined drives of the half – Stillwater found its’ rhythm again midway through the quarter. The Warriors’ third possession out of the break got a huge boost through the air when Mueller connected on another deep ball – this one a 30-yard strike to Lilac. Mueller would call his own number on the very next play, taking a read option keeper straight up the gut and plunging into the end zone from 12 yards out, making it a 27-0 ballgame.
Cambridge/Salem coughed up the ball on its’ ensuing drive, and in just one play, the Warriors put another six points on the scoreboard: McDonough took a jet sweep 39 yards to the house. Lilac closed the scoring in the fourth stanza, punching in his second rushing touchdown of the night and sixth of the season on a nine-yard carry to pay dirt.
Mueller believes the performance he and his teammates put together against a quality Cambridge/Salem team put the rest of Class D on notice.
“It’s gonna be a huge turning point, ’cause many people, or many teams probably thought we weren’t gonna do much comin’ down (to Class D) after losing a lot of seniors,” said Mueller. “But you know what? We’re here. That’s all I gotta say.”
Considering all that his team had to work through mentally this week with the loss to Cocozzo, head coach Ian Godfrey was nearly brought to tears as he addressed his team following an incredibly inspired effort.
“Honestly, I don’t even think words can (describe) how I feel about them,” said Godfrey. “You know, we had a really tough week. When you lose a kid that’s been here since I started – he’s a family member – and he goes down; these guys just…they rallied; they responded; it was emotional; it was personal. What else can you say? I’m just so proud to be their coach right now.”
Stillwater (4-0) continues a three-game homestand with Greenwich next week and Canajoharie/Fort Plain in Week Five before perhaps its’ biggest game of the year against fellow unbeaten foe Warrensburg/Lake George/Bolton on Oct. 14.
Cambridge/Salem (1-3) will aim to bounce back on the road next Saturday against Voorheesville.