STILLWATER, N.Y. (NEWS10) — No championship season comes without some adversity. And the Stillwater football team certainly overcame its fair share of obstacles en route to claiming the Class D championship.
Back in Week 6, an injured Jaxon Mueller had to watch from the sidelines as his previously undefeated Stillwater team was trounced by Warrensburg/Lake George/Bolton 50-7 – the third straight loss of at least 35 points they suffered to the Wolverines dating back to last year.
But three weeks later, the star senior running back was hoisting the Class D plaque after a four-touchdown effort against that same Warrensburg team, leading to a 41-14 win.
“We came out firing on all cylinders,” said Mueller. “We won the turnover battle, which was huge. We executed on offense; executed on defense. Held them to under 50 rushing yards, which is unheard of from their offense.”
Mueller was just one of a number of key starters missing for Stillwater in that regular season meeting with the Wolverines that returned in time for last Friday’s sectional championship game.
Included in that mix was two-way standout lineman Anthony Cocozzo, who, prior to Week 4, was feared to have suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Instead, he recorded nine tackles in his first game back from injury, helping lead his team to a section title in his final season at Stillwater.
“I mean, it’s hard to describe (the feeling) because the first couple days (after the injury) I was crushed, until I found out that…I didn’t tear my ACL; it was just my MCL, and I could get back out there and play with the guys in my favorite sport. So, it was awesome,” said Cocozzo.
Aside from overcoming the injury bug, Stillwater has gotten a boost from some creative game planning and personnel changes. Head coach Ian Godfrey made the decision to put freshman lineman James Cocozzo in the backfield the last two games, and it’s paid off. The Warriors have racked up 651 rushing yards in that span – 55 of which have actually come from Cocozzo.
“We saw our depth up front, and we said, “Boy, you know, we have a couple guys that have developed really nicely for us – couple young guys; maybe we have the opportunity to put James in the backfield, and keep this offensive line kind of big and physical?”” said Godfrey. “It’s a nice wrinkle to be able to put one of your best linemen in the backfield.”
Of course, it hasn’t been an uphill battle all season for a Stillwater team that boasts a 9-1 record. It has gotten steady contributions from a number of players, namely senior running back Lukas Lilac, who’s played all 10 games and amassed a whopping 1,400 yards on the ground, while reaching the end zone 14 times.
The Warriors have set their sights set on a regional matchup in the 2023 NYSPHSAA Football Championships with Section VII’s Moriah Saturday. And the key for them against the Vikings is to keep riding the wave they’re on.
“(We) can’t change much,” said Mueller. “Just…keep our energy up; keep our hopes up, ’cause we’re just trying to go 1-0 every week. That’s our goal.”
“Moriah this week is big, physical, fast,” added Godfrey. “So, you know, a similar game plan (to Warrensburg’s) has to be in store this week. We have to play sound football. We have to make sure we’re taking care of our own business.”
It’s essentially a home game for Stillwater Saturday. Kickoff from Mechanicville High School is set for 12:30 p.m.