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December 03, 2016
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Simply exceptional

Sullivan West’s Zach O’Connor hauls in a 12-yard TD pass from Wallkill quarterback Joe Pilliterri to break a scoreless deadlock in the Section IX Exceptional Seniors All-Star Game. O’Connor had three catches in the first half.
Photos by Richard A. Ross, sportsinsightsny.com

NEWBURGH, NY — The end of a sports season invariably evokes a surfeit of superlatives when it comes to describing the noteworthy accomplishment of individual athletes and/or teams. But even words like outstanding, excellent and superior can lose some of their resonance with overuse, though they are often warranted when it comes to extolling the achievements evinced. But the word “exceptional” has a place all its own in the lexicon. Simply put, to be exceptional is to exist in a realm apart. So it is fitting Section IX’s senior All-Star football game should contain that adjective. On November 16, 87 exceptional senior grid stars who were nominated by their coaches based on their talent, contributions to their team efforts and their sportsmanship gathered at the Newburgh Academy Field to engage in the Section IX Exceptional Seniors All-Star Game.

The event was revived last year after a 30-year hiatus. Divided into competing American and National squads comprised of players from schools large and small alike, the game affords these fine seniors one last chance in their high school careers to play the game they so dearly love. As an added perk, they foster great learning and forge lasting friendships as players who may have once been adversaries during the season or may have been from schools that never saw each other, join forces in the exhibition game.This year the American squad avenged last year’s 24-11 loss with a 27-0 win over their National counterparts. Sullivan West’s Zachary O’Connor and Cody Franskevicz were part of the American whirlwind that featured a high-powered passing offense and a stalwart defense. O’Connor had three catches on the day including a 12-yard TD reception that broke a scoreless tie with 9:08 remaining in the second quarter. Franskevicz had an impressive catch in the midst of four defenders in the second half. For all of the players, the honor of being a part of the event, the chance to learn so much during the three days of practice and the bonds formed with other gridiron elites were far more important than the game’s outcome. Playing for the National squad was Liberty’s Kevin Brannigan, who played center on alternating series and did a fine job of blocking as well. Teammate Julius Graves recorded a sack in the first half. Eldred’s Nik Dilles had a number of key receptions including a late one that put his team in scoring position as they tried to negate the shutout. The American team’s defense thwarted that effort. Fellow Yellow Jacket Julian Gottlieb lent his running skills to the National effort. Monticello’s Terry Duncan offered up his speed at wide receiver, while Jon Harned was in on a number of tackles from his linebacker position. While the exceptional seniors were having their final hurrah on the gridiron, another exceptional group, namely the Eldred girls soccer team was vying against defending Class D state champion Poland at the Final Four in Cortland, NY. Powerful Poland scored a trio of first half goals en route to a 4-0 win to end Eldred’s storied season at 10-8-1. Eldred won its first Section IX title since 1986 with two late goals to marshal a 3-2 win against rival Livingston Manor. They went on to add another chapter to school history with a dramatic 2-1 Regional win over Oppenheim/Ephratah/St. Johnsville by dint of a goal by freshman Jordan Lepes on a feed from Lyndzee Kelty with just 17 seconds remaining. Eldred returns 14 players next year including its three leading scorers in Kelty, Lepes and Melissa McGonagle who missed the state semifinal due to a broken radius suffered in the regional game. Standout sophomore keeper Jenna Burns will be back next season as well, as Eldred aspires to become more like the team that ousted them. For more about the school’s loving sendoff for the team as they departed for Cortland, read the story on page one. For detailed stories and albums of photos from the Eldred sendoff and the senior football classic, visit www.sportsinsightsny.com and www.sportsinsights.smugmug.com.