2001: Salamanca Warriors Down LeRoy Knights 28-23 in Western Regional Final
Salamanca made the big plays when it needed to and now the Warriors have earned a trip to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse next weekend (to play Delhi - Section 4). The Warriors made two key defensive plays in the fourth quarter and scored an insurance TD in beating LeRoy 28-23 in the Far West Regional Championship football game Friday night (11-16) at UR's Fauver Stadium.
"Big plays happened all over," LeRoy coach Brian Moran said. "They had a couple more big plays than we did. They are a great football team, great athletes and we wish them the best. I hope they bring the state championship back to Western New York."
With eight minutes left in the game and the Warriors clinging to a 20-16 lead, the Oatkan Knights were driving. Facing a critical third-and-3 at the Salamanca 30-yard line, LeRoy QB Joe Shaughnessy dropped back to pass. The Warriors called for the blitz and sacked Shaughnessy for a 12-yard loss.
"That was huge because that gave them 18 or 20 yards to go," Salamanca coach Rich Morton said. "Any time you can get great field position and play on a short field it makes it a whole lot better than when you are down deep in your own territory and have to drive 90 or more yards to score."
The LeRoy defense stepped up on the next drive. Salamanca RB Derrick Murphy was held to two consecutive 1-yard runs and on third-and-8 Shaughnessy picked off a Cameron Haines pass at the LeRoy 42. After a Joe Cosimeno 2-yard run and an 8-yard pass from Shaughnessy to WR Brendan Fulmer, LeRoy's shot at the win seemed to slip away. On the next play, LeRoy RB Rick Laurie took a handoff and got to the right side of the line before a Warrior linebacker wrapped him up and knocked the ball loose.
Salamanca recovered the ball with 5:07 left in the game and went on a 6-play drive that took two minutes off the clock and was capped off by an 11-yard QB keeper by Haines. Down 28-16, LeRoy answered with a 55-yard TD pass from Shaughnessy to Fulmer.
"They played a good football team tonight," Moran said. "We came up a few points short, but I am proud of the effort by every one of them. They hung in there and they played four quarters of football." Salamanca recovered the LeRoy onside kick and ran out the clock for the 28-23 win.
The Oatkan Knights struck first in the game. Ten minutes into the first quarter, Fulmer made a leaping catch over Salamanca's Aaron Hill for a 23-yard TD. That capped off a 10-play drive that went 59 yards. Fulmer had 2 TDs and collected 3 receptions for 88 yards in the contest.
Salamanca scored two minutes into the second quarter on a 1-yard TD run by Make Liberatore (six rushes for 30 yards in the contest). The conversion run failed.
The Oatkan Knights moved the ball on the ground, but their next drive stalled and they were forced to punt. Dustin Ross fumbled Fulmer's punt and the Warriors recovered in the end zone for a LeRoy safety (Defensive MVP Jason Hodge made the tackle) to make the score 9-6 in favor of LeRoy.
The Knights went up 16-6 in the third quarter when Moran called a trick play. Shaughnessy threw a backwards pass to Fulmer who then threw a perfect 57-yard TD pass to TE Brendan Moran. Fulmer added the PAT kick. Salamanca narrowed the margin to 16-12 on a 9-yard run by Haines with 3:33 left in the third quarter. LeRoy received the kickoff but could not mount a drive and was forced to punt.
Three plays into the Warrior drive, Haines went deep for Ross. The Knights managed to get a hand on the ball but the tipped pigskin was controlled by Ross who scored. "I was the wingback and I went deep between the safeties," Ross said. "When the ball was going up in the air, I didn't even see the player who tipped it. It fell right into my hands."
Ross, the game's Offensive MVP, had 102 yards rushing on 13 carries and caught two passes for 52 yards. He added 7 tackles on defense. "I have good stats, but it's because of the team," Ross said. "The linemen did a good job tonight. Everybody was fired up and we did a good job."
Shaughnessy had a fine evening, going 8-of-15 for 122 yards and two TDs. LeRoy linebacker Jason Hodge was the game's Defensive MVP as he collected 9 tackles. Teammates Kenny Smith and Rick Laurie had 8 and 7 tackles respectively.
LeRoy (10-1) finishes the season as LCAA Division 2 champs and Section 5 Class champs. Salamanca (11-0) moves on to the state semifinals at the Syracuse University Carrier Dome to play Delhi of Section 4.
2001 Far West Regional - Salamanca vs. LeRoy Highlights
This clash between these 2 state-ranked Western NY Class C powerhouses was indeed a great contest. The Knights went to the air more than usual due to the hard-charging run defense of the Warriors. With QB Joe Shaughnessy and the 2 receiving Brendans, Fulmer and Moran, the pass was indeed a viable option. Senior Rick Laurie kept the Warriors honest on the inside by providing some awfully tough running from his FB position. The results of his lifting program over the summer were evident in his spectacular senior season. Fear not LeRoy fans, the Knights return a lot of talent on both sides of the ball next season. The abundance of returning starters, coupled with an unbeaten JV squad adds up to the Knights once again being a small-school football power in Section 5 in 2002.
I, for one, will miss the display of senior leadership provided by center John Marinaccio as he leads the squad on and off the field with a "tighten it up, look sharp, and be proud" order. At game's end, John once again assembled the team to cleanly jog off the field in two tight and uniform lines. You have to leave the field with class and heads held high because as Coach Moran stated "you're wearing those black helmets" (symbolizing the strength and talent of the LeRoy football program).
Congratulations to the Salamanca Warriors on a well-played, clean, hard-hitting performance. The Section 6 powers, led by coach Rich Morton, are indeed worthy of their unbeaten record and vaunted #3 state ranking in Class C. The "4 Horsemen" - the offensive backfield of Cameron Haines, Dustin Ross, Derrick Murphy, and Mike Liberatore are definitely an awesome spectacle. Ross, the game's Offensive MVP is a nightmare for any defensive coordinator with his steam-rolling power. He can also deliver quite a lick on defense. Haines and Murphy both displayed fine speed and moves while Liberatore was clutch down the stretch when the game was oh-so-close in the waning moments.
As for sportsmanship, both teams played fierce and clean football without going "overboard". Very few penalties were called in the contest, in fact, the Warriors played so disciplined that they went the entire game without a flag. At game's end, both on and off the field, team members, coaches, staffs, and fans wished each other well, realizing they had been treated to a classic contest, #4 in the LeRoy-Salamanca series. Each team has now won twice in the series, LeRoy in 1996 and 1998 and Salamanca in 1999 and this season. A future game 5 may not be far off.