By JOHN LIKANJE
PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Coming into this season, the Livonia varsity football program knew how much depth it had. Unfortunately, injuries plagued the Bulldogs throughout the campaign, including in their 38-22 loss to UPrep on September 28th.
Saturday afternoon at Pittsford Sutherland High School, John Gammon’s squad proved how great they could be when fully healthy. The Bulldogs took down top-seeded UPrep, 27-0, at Ordiway Field in the Class B sectional semifinals.
“It’s tough playing a team twice for both sides of the ball because both these teams are two of the top small teams around,” Gammon said. “We knew it was going to be a good game and we knew they would play us better defensively. But we also knew we had a couple of linemen back this week that weren’t with us on that Homecoming game when we lost to them.”
Livonia executed its game plan perfectly, grabbing yards on the ground and eating up much of the clock. Alexander Minnehan led a nine-minute, two-second drive in which the Bulldogs ran 17 plays – 14 of which came through the trenches – and compiled 67 yards. The junior quarterback accounted for 25 of those yards with his legs and completed a nine-yard pass to Marcus Lewis to keep the drive alive. Lewis capped off the possession with a five-yard touchdown run to extend Livonia’s lead to 12-0 with 21.7 seconds left in the first half.
“We knew, against this team, that we had to get on the scoreboard quick and early because they’re a clock management team,” UPrep head coach Kala Gause said. “That’s what they did. They went for it on fourth down a couple of times. Three or four yards a pop. That’s all you need. Once they get up, they sort of have an advantage and the clock becomes a factor.”
Minnehan bullied his way to 19 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown. The junior quarterback completed 3-of-5 passes for 32 yards and a score as well.
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity to play with these guys,” Minnehan said. “We’re not playing to win anymore. We’re playing for the right to play one more week with each other.”
“Alex is a competitor,” Gammon said about Minnehan, who’s playing his first year of varsity football. “He’s one of the best athletes in Section V for his grade. He’s just a playmaker. When you have someone like that at quarterback that just understands athletics, understands situational football, it’s just a great thing to have. It’s like having another coach on the field. He’s that type of player.”
Lewis carried eight times for 34 yards and a touchdown. Senior running back Joel Smith scrambled for seven carries, 24 yards and a score.
Livonia scored on four of its seven drives. The Bulldogs held the ball for 31 of 48 minutes as well. Six of their seven possessions lasted at least three minutes.
“Things just fell perfectly,” Gammon said. “We had no turnovers. No penalties. We grinded it out. We got a lot of short yardage for first downs. Our kids just played really creative football. We’ve been doing that all year.”
Freshman defensive back Sean Mayo hauled in an interception at the end of the first half as the Bulldogs forced a pair of turnovers.
“This week, we really worked on our back side pursuit, almost like when you’d pursue on a kickoff return,” Gammon explained about preparing his defense for Saturday’s game. “Our boys just did a really great job. We knew they were going to break some runs and they had some good runs today. But we knew that if we’d play really sound defense that we’d put them in some plays where they lost yardage.”
For UPrep, Michael Cathey attempted to ignite his team with eight carries for 56 yards. The senior tailback ended his strong season with 1,011 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
“I think we just didn’t come out as aggressive as we wanted to,” Gause said. “I don’t know if it was the big lights. Not really sure. But they wanted it. I give credit to their coaching staff and their game plan.”
Clyde Davis, Jr. completed 5-of-10 passes for 37 yards. The sophomore quarterback finished with 944 passing yards in his first varsity season.
Ray Rivera led the defense with 13 tackles. The senior compiled 126 tackles over nine games.
The UPrep Griffins finish the 2019 campaign with a 7-2 record, their best season since the program started in 2014.
“It was my pleasure working with these kids,” Gause said when looking back on the season. “We got a young team. Each year I’ve been here, we’ve improved our record. I think we’re heading in the right direction and it’s things like this that we learn from. Losses like this when you lose and it’s the playoffs.”
“Livonia has a lot of experience in the sectional playoffs. They got a lot of history. For us, we’re just now getting started. We’ll learn from this and we’ll go into the offseason and prepare.”
Livonia (7-2) advances the Class B sectional final next Saturday at 7 p.m. at Saint John Fisher College. The Bulldogs will match up with Honeoye Falls-Lima, who defeated Palmyra-Macedon in the other semifinal game. Livonia is seeking its first sectional title in 26 years.
“We’re pretty much who we are,” Gammon said in anticipation of next weekend’s final. “We punch you in the face and we’re like a prize fighter. We just keep punching and punching and punching.”
“You might put in a good game plan to slow us down in the beginning. But eventually, those body blows are going to wear you down and we’re going to punch it in the end zone.”