LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — The calm before the storm: such was the confidence exuded by the rabid Sullivan West Bulldogs, who had sent an early message to rival Liberty with a 13-0 first quarter lead in their most important football game of the year. Looking to keep their playoff hopes alive in a season on the brink, the rabid Dawgs had pushed Liberty up and down the field looking imposing in the process. Behind last week’s 51-14 league loss to Millbrook, this game was a do-or-die matter, as a Westie defeat would bar them from the playoffs, something Sullivan West did to Liberty two years prior with a 21-20 OT win on this same field of battle.
Liberty looked shaky at the outset, dropping a key pass, failing to recover a Dawgs fumble and unable to stop the Bulldogs’ advancing vanguard. A 27-yard Andrew Stabbert TD and a Michael Sedlack PAT with 5:34 remaining in the first quarter staked SW to a 7-0 lead. Then, a Liberty fumble recovered by SW senior Cody Franskevicz initiated a 51-yard, nine-play drive that ended with a two-yard TD dive by quarterback Richard Shevak. The PAT failed, but the Dawgs were barking up a virtual storm. Then a real storm actually descended with an ominous bolt of lightning that sent players scurrying to their locker rooms and fans to their cars or the gym for the requisite 30-minute hiatus. Mother Nature washed out last year’s non-league game between the rivals won by the Westies. But this game mattered far more. More lightning, more waiting. In the Dawgs’ locker room there was an air of confidence, while Liberty’s was more reflective. More than one hour later the teams resumed play. Liberty scored on a 60-yard gallop by senior quarterback Quinn Jackson with 1:50 remaining in the half. The two-point conversion failed, and they now trailed 13-6. The Bulldogs answered with a sustained drive that ended with a short TD pass to Franskevicz with 8.8 seconds remaining in the half for the 19-6 lead. Confusion on the PAT play nixed the chance to add to the lead. A revitalized Liberty received to start the second half.
In what was to be a dramatic reversal of fortune, now it was the Indians that were controlling the line of scrimmage, moving the ball effectively and marshaling a defense that would lead to 21 unanswered points and the cathartic 27-19 come-from-behind win. The first blow was a 17-yard run by Fallsburg transfer Shakree Gibson. The PAT made it 19-13. The Westies took to the air and moved the chains, but Liberty sacked Shevak on a fourth and 16 at the Liberty 24. The Tribe exuded confidence, while the Bulldogs scrambled to regain their moxie. A four-yard TD run by Jackson with 11:48 to go in the fourth quarter tied the game and Grant Harman’s PAT gave the Indians the lead they would never relinquish. Liberty led 20-19 and those two missed Westie PAT’s now loomed large. The feisty Bulldogs marshaled an impressive drive, but with a fourth and one yard to go at the Liberty 31, Liberty stuffed a Shevak run and got the ball back on downs with 7:18 to go. The Westies moved the ball but could not sustain drives, and on a late punt attempt, the ball was fumbled and Liberty capitalized on the turnover with the dagger, a TD run by Stephen Johnson for the 26-19 edge. The PAT made it 27-19. Sullivan West had one final chance to even the score as they looked to traverse the field and add a two-point conversion to thrust the game into OT, but it was not to be. In the resumed downpour, Liberty now 2-2 (1-0 Class C Division II) evinced a muted celebration, while the dejected Bulldogs 1-3 (0-2 Class C Division II) were left to ponder their eviscerated playoff hopes. Sullivan West will travel to Highland for a non-league game, while Liberty hosts unbeaten Millbrook. Liberty could garner the one-seed with a win over Millbrook. A loss would render them as the likely two-seed. In other football action, all of the other locals fell. Tri-Valley (0-5) lost to Rondout Valley 69-14, Eldred (1-4) lost 28-21 to the Hackley School, Monticello 0-5 (0-3 Class A) fell to Wallkill 35-24 and dominant Chester pounded Roscoe/LM/Downsville 2-3 (1-1 Cass D) 64-0.
In cross-country, the Sullivan West girls posted a first-ever harrier win against Tri-Valley in Grahamsville. The last time the Lady Bulldogs beat T-V in a dual meet was in 2005, the last year Sullivan West won the Section IX crown. Courtney Meyerer (22:32), Kelsey Dutton (22:49) and Corinne VanWagner (23:10) evinced the one-two-three sweep that netted SW a 29-30 win over the Lady Bears. T-V’s Ian Kurzrock won the boys race against harriers from Sullivan West, Tri-Valley, Kingston and Mount Academy. Read the historically compelling story entitled “Won by One,” on www.sportsinsightsny.com
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