The two teams battling for the Section 3 Class B football championship have been the class of of the section for the past several seasons.
Homer Central and Cazenovia will renew their rivalry Sunday at 3 p.m. inside the Carrier Dome, and head into that confrontation with plenty of momentum.
The second-seeded Trojans (8-1) have won seven straight games, including a 31-22 victory over fourth seed Mexico in the semifinals.
The top-seeded Lakers (8-1) have six straight wins, including a 37-14 semifinal win over third-seed Chittenango.
Cazenovia is the defending state champion and is currently ranked 12th in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association Class B poll. Homer has moved up to the 16th slot in that same poll.
The Lakers have won three of the last four Class B title games. The lone exception is 2014, the year the Trojans won their fourth sectional crown 38-21 in Cazenovia coach Tom Neidl’s last game. Homer knocked off Caz 41-14 in the 2005 Class B championship game in the other meeting of the two teams in the final.
The Lakers own a 48-0 semifinal win in 2006 and 59-6 triumph in the 2007 quarterfinals over the Trojans. Outside of these four playoff appearances, Cazenovia holds a 6-2 edge in regular season games between the two teams dating all the way back to 1956.
Jay Steinhorst is in his second season as head coach at Cazenovia, but is well aware of the Trojans from his years as an assistant coach. There is a lot of mutual respect between Steinhorst and Homer head coach Gary Podsiedlik.
“Gary and his guys are everything that is right about high school football,” Steinhorst said. “They are a well-coached, physical team. We definitely need to come ready to play Sunday because they will be ready.
“Of course we want to beat them up,” he added. “They want to beat us up. The thing is that we are all good friends after the game.”
“Jay and his staff can out-coach anyone,” Podsiedlik said. “They do a great job of studying film and creating packages on both side of the ball. Cazenovia has a great program and and great staff.
“I still believe Mexico has the most talented team,” he continued. “Cazenovia and Homer found they way to beat the best teams at the right time of the season. We both play strong, physical football.”
THE LONE CAZENOVIA loss came in week three when the Lakers dropped a 28-27 decision to Utica Notre Dame.
“We were simply trying to survive games early in the season,” Steinhorst said. “We had some key injuries, but we have gotten healthier and we had caught our stride now.”
Cazenovia will be without junior quarterback Matt Regan who was injured in the Chittenango game last week. He is also a safety, punter, kickoff specialist and field goal kicker.
Regan completed 33-of-72 passing attempts for 559 yards with eight touchdowns and four interception. Regan was also the second leading rusher on the team with 468 yards and eight touchdowns on 60 carries.
That might seem like a big blow, but the Lakers have used four different players at quarterback, The Lakers are a run-first team even though they use the spread formation most of the time.
“We like to take what the other team gives us,” Steinhorst said. “We do like to throw the ball, but we are a run-oriented team. We can move under center and go with our Rhino (big guy) running attack in key situations. Either way, we like to have an up-tempo style of play.”
Cazenovia may play the most skilled positions in different positions as needed,” Podsiedlik said. “They may have lost their starting quarterback, but the other guys will step right in and won’t be nervous.”
STEPPING UP TO start Sunday at quarterback will be senior Anthony Veccharelli (5-foot-10 inches, 165 pounds). He has run the ball 65 times for 378 yards and four touchdowns while completing six-of-eight passes for 116 yards and one touchdown. Veccharelli has also played in the slot with five receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Starting in the backfield will by senior running back Austin Enders (5-10, 225) who has rushed for 414 yards and seven touchdowns while catching six passes for 98 yards. Senior Cody Thorpe is the Lakers’ leading rusher with 687 yards on 90 carries for seven touchdowns and six catches for 170 yards and two TDs.
Junior Matt McLaughlin will be in the slot and he leads the team with 17 receptions for 238 yards and three touchdowns. He can carry the ball when needed. Seniors Clay Fox and Nate Morgan will be the split ends.
The offensive line is anchored by senior center Jack Eldred (6-4, 224). On the left side, senior Ben Nichols (6-4, 216) in the guard and senior Will Kmetz (6-3, 215) is the tackle. Senior Connor Westfall in the right guard and junior Dan Kent is the right tackle.
On defense, Cazenovia has multiple fronts with three, four and five down linemen. their traditional 4-3 has Nichols and Kent at the ends with Kmetz and senior Sam Mabie at the tackles. Veccharelli, Enders and junior Will Huftalen are the linebackers. Senior Will Khalil is the left cornerback with McLaughlin the right cornerback. The safeties are Thorp and junior Joey Gates.
“We had some issues in the secondary early in the season, but we have adjusted that,’” Steinhorst said. “Our run defense has been solid all season.”
HOMER WILL CONTINUE to rely on running backs and an occasional pass to be successful on offense.
Junior tailback John Horner III is just 65 yards away from a 1,000-yard season, Horner has 935 yards on 164 carries and 12 touchdowns while missing a game and one-half with injuries. Senior tailback Kevin Bush continues to be solid with 622 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Senior multi-purpose man Matt Guerrera has crossed the goal-line seven times as well between rushing (283 yards, 2 TDs) and receiving (233 yards, 5 TDs), plus he does have a kickoff return for six points this season too. Junior tight end Dante Yacavone leads the team with 18 catches for 210 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Jacob Rivers is an emotional leader for the Trojans on offense, and lately defense.
Rivers has completed 33-of-80 passing attempts for 532 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Rivers has picked his running spots well and gained 198 yards on 67 carries and one touchdown.
“Jacob throws the ball to the open guy,” Podsiedlik said. “He really knows his reads and progressions. He knows what he sees and he know how to react whether it means throwing or running the ball.”
Senior co-captains Luke Sears and Cody Johnson continue to play solid on the offensive line, but lead the Trojan defense as well. Sears has 129 tackles while Johnson has 69 to be one-two on the team.
THE KEYS TO VICTORY are straightforward.
“Homer has a nice running game and we have to stop it,” Steinhorst said. “We can’t give them third down and short yardage situations and we cannot turn the ball over. I believe we had seven turnovers in that 2014 game and we know what happened that day.”
“Turnover play will be a factor,” Podsiedlik said. “It did effect the outcome in 2014. The most consistent special teams play will help with field position and can dictate so much. We have to trust each other on both sides of the ball. Knowing that your teammate will do is job allows you to do your job.”
TROJAN TIDBITS: Blue Collar Awards went to Reno Gaffney (line) and Jacob Rivers (non-line) for this week…Jack Walter and Jacob Rivers were named game captains for the Cazenovia game.