SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — The vibrant color of autumn leaves and the brisk temperatures define the eminence of fall. But so, too, does the inimitable excitement of the high school football season as it hurtles into its final two weeks before the playoffs begin on October 26. And what could be more enticing than having a local team or two in the running for postseason glory? Last year, Sullivan West and Tri-Valley were Class C semifinalists from Division I and II, respectively, and though the Bullldogs fell to Burke and the Bears were vanquished by eventual champion James I. O’Neill, the thrill of being in the dance was uplifting for the cadre of fans from local communities who flocked to Faller Field in Middletown or Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
This year’s realignment put the two county rivals in Division II, and so their week six clash on October 5 loomed large as an encounter that could well bounce one from playoff contention. With its commanding 33-7 home win over Tri-Valley 3-3 (2-2 Class C Division II), its eighth win out of 12 encounters since 2005 when the Bulldogs 5-1 (2-0 Class C Division II) dropped down to Class C, Sullivan West found itself just one win away from securing a return to the Section 9 Class C final four.
Westie junior Jared Meola scored first on a 14-yard run before T-V junior Cody Exner broke free for 56 yards to tie the game at 7-7. Westie sophomore Brian Stauch scored the first of his two TDs early in the second quarter. In one of the game’s two defining phases, Brad Hemmer returned an interception 75 yards to give the Dawgs a 21-7 lead, with 7:19 to go in the first half. Then the Bulldogs held firm as T-V threatened at the seven-yard line but failed to score less than a minute before the break.
Second-half TDs from Stauch and Meola cemented the win. Now a victory at the October 12 Homecoming Game against Pine Plains would guarantee the Bulldogs at least the two seed in the playoffs, while a road win at Millbrook one week hence would make the Bulldogs the top seed destined to face the number-two seed from Division I. A loss to the Blazers would make Millbrook the one seed and Sullivan West the two seed. O’Neill has already locked up the top seed in Division 1, but the question remains as to which other team will fill out the bracket.
With Liberty’s astounding 53-19 win over Division I rival John S. Burke on October 6, the Indians, a team that lost a 22-14 monsoon-shortened non-league encounter to Sullivan West back in week two, could be that Cinderella if it beats Dover this coming weekend. Imagine a rematch between the Westies and the Indians! It could happen if Sullivan West and Liberty win their next two games. Liberty faces Onteora in week eight and would be the prohibitive favorite in that encounter. After losing its star running back, Kenny Jaycox, to a torn ACL in a non-league win over Eldred on October 1, Liberty inserted senior Ryan Henry into the backfield. He responded with four touchdowns and 200 yards on 19 carries. Sophomore quarterback Quinn Jackson raced for three TDs and 247 yards on 23 carries as Liberty 4-2 (1-1 Class C Division I) racked up 511 rushing yards against Burke 2-4 (1-1 Class C Division I). Currently O’Neill, Burke, Liberty and Dover form a logjam with identical 1-1 league records. Tie breakers are broken by head-to-head results first and then points scored against each team as a second criteria. Burke beat O’Neill. O’Neill beat Dover and Liberty beat Burke thus far. Liberty and Burke face Dover over the next two weeks. Since O’Neill is -5 in points against, and Liberty and Burke are -21, Liberty, which now holds the tie-breaker over Burke, could make it to the dance if it wins out in weeks seven and eight.
While Class A Monticello and Class D Livingston Manor were also in the playoffs last year, this year neither will qualify. Eldred is likely to face Chester for the Class D title game as the Yellow Jackets would be the only other Sullivan County team vying for a trophy in early November.
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