MECHANICVILLE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Stillwater football team simply seems to thrive in the face of adversity. Whether it’s overcoming injuries -which the Warriors had to do for much of the season – or trying to hold on to a late, one-point lead in a regional game – which they managed to do Saturday afternoon – this bunch never backs down. And that resolve is what has Stillwater ready to make its first-ever appearance in the state final four.
The Warriors eked out a 28-20 win over Section VII’s Moriah in the regional round of the 2023 NYSPHSAA Football Class D Championships at Mechanicville High School. The Vikings had the ball in plus territory, trailing 21-20 with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but a 63-yard Thomas McDonough pick six and ensuing Moriah turnover on downs clinched the Warriors their first regional title in program history.
“That was a really tough football game; really physical,” said Stillwater head coach Ian Godfrey. “Came down to the last possession. I mean, what more could you ask for in a regional? These kids have been resilient and faced adversity all season long, so this is nothing new for them.”
Stillwater seniors Jaxon Mueller and Lukas Lilac led the way, as they have for much of the year. Mueller racked up 80 yards on the ground, rushed for a touchdown and threw one as well, earning offensive MVP for the game. Lilac earned defensive MVP, while also setting the single-season school rushing record (1,611) with a 134-yard effort on the ground.
“We just don’t quit. We’re always trying to win every play – every play on defense, on offense; just trying to fire on all cylinders on every play as best we can, giving our max effort,” said Mueller. “(We) were just balling out there today. It’s surreal to experience – for our whole community, for us – something the school hasn’t seen before.”
While the upperclassmen took home the game hardware, it was one of the young guns that started the scoring for Stillwater. Freshman lineman James Cocozzo – in his backfield role he’s adopted the last three games – plunged into the end zone from a yard out, answering a Moriah touchdown from the possession prior. A Landen Staie PAT gave the Warriors a 7-6 edge.
Their third series spanned almost the entirety of the second quarter. Mueller capped a 21-play, 97-yard scoring drive with a 19-yard strike to McDonough, extending the margin to eight points just 14 seconds before halftime.
It’d stay a 14-6 ballgame until the late stages of the third quarter when a Moriah screen pass from Joe Pelkey to Dieter Olcott set the Vikings up at the Stillwater one-yard. Logan Gilbo would reach pay dirt two plays later, but a failed two-point conversion kept the Warriors out in front by two points.
Stillwater got the ball back, and marched right down the field. Mueller took a QB keeper off the left side and made his way in for six – a 12-yard touchdown scamper that made it a two-score game at 21-12.
The final 5:40 of the fourth quarter provided edge-of-the-seat action. Pelkey led a touchdown drive in just 1:36, and the Vikings recovered an onside kick to set them up just inside the 50-yard line on the Stillwater half of the field.
On third and long, McDonough, who had been beaten in the end zone by Olcott on Moriah’s previous touchdown, jumped a pass intended for Evan Fleury, and, in the ultimate redemption moment, took it the distance for what proved to be the game-clinching score.
Between Mueller, Lilac and McDonough, the Stillwater senior class put together a sterling effort Saturday – something that will continue to be required for this team to make a run at a state title.
“We’re in uncharted territory after this week,” said Godfrey. “So, a guy like Jackson’s gonna be leaned on pretty heavily, along with Lukas.”
Stillwater will take on Section I’s Haldane this Friday, Nov. 24 at Middletown High School with a spot in the state championship game on the line. Kickoff is set for 3:00 p.m.