By JOHN LIKANJE
NORTH SYRACUSE, N.Y. – A pick-six on the second play of the game. The defense only allowing 13 total yards in the first quarter. Through the opening 14 and a half minutes, Canandaigua looked primed to win their 11th straight and compete for their second state title in program history the following weekend in the Carrier Dome.
Unfortunately, the Braves were unable to maintain momentum and sustain consistency over a full 48 minutes. Despite an attempted late rally, Canandaigua was unable come back in the waning moments of Friday’s state semifinal game and fell to Section III champion Carthage, 16-6.
The Braves struck for an early 6-0 lead on a pick-six from senior safety Nathan Maclean. Jeffrey Welch’s defensive line swallowed holes and made life difficult for Carthage’s offense as well. Fombo Azah, who came into Friday’s matchup with six straight games of 200 rushing yards for the Comets, only had two of his six carries go for at least five yards in the first quarter.
However, the Comets adjusted and created more seams for Azah. On the first possession of the second period, the senior tailback charged forward five and seven yards, respectively, after being held to a two-yard run. Azah finally broke through for a 23-yard touchdown to tie the game – the second-longest offensive play of the contest.
— John Mitchell Likanje Junior (@jml5798) November 23, 2019
Azah’s touchdown was the only offensive score of the game as the Comets pulled ahead on a Casey Farrell 22-yard field goal for a lead they did not surrender. Thomas Albright blocked a punt and recovered the ball for a touchdown to extend the lead near the end of the third quarter.
Canandaigua mounted one last rally after recovering a fumble with 1:20 remaining and starting the drive on Carthage’s five-yard line thanks to a false start penalty. Senior tailback Zachary Wantuck wrestled the ball away from a Carthage defender and charged to the one-yard line. With the clock winding down, the Braves quickly snapped the ball but Bryan Boldrin was unable to handle the it and the Comets recovered a fumble to ice the game.
“They played solid,” Welch said. “Very few mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes. This far into the season, the team that makes the fewer mistakes wins. That’s what happened tonight.”
Dominic Comella carried the offense with 21 touches for 99 yards. The junior tailback caught a 40-yard pass late in the fourth quarter for the longest offensive play of the game as well. Wantuck contributed 10 carries and 52 yards.
“We were able to run the ball pretty consistently,” Welch said. “But when you’re getting penalties and you’re behind the chains, you’re pretty predictable that you got to throw the ball. We were in those situations a number of times and you can’t do that.”
There were a combined 28 penalties in the game, including 12 by the Braves. Welch’s squad committed seven turnovers as well – four interceptions and three fumbles.
Canandaigua completed the season with a 10-2 record. The Braves won 10 consecutive games and earned their first sectional title since 2007.
“This is a special group,” Welch said. “The senior class and just the way they operate as a team. When our backs were against the wall, they didn’t quit. They just kept fighting right to the very last second. That’s their true character. I’m so proud of them.”
“Brothers for life. They set a standard in this program that we haven’t seen in 20 years, but more so they had an impact on us coaches that we’re going to remember them forever.”