by Dick Sterling
Once every generation or so high school football fans have the opportunity to witness a game that will stay in their memory for decades to come… Saturday’s battle of the unbeatens at Frank LaFalce Field, behind the Gouverneur High School between the hometown Wildcats and the visiting Potsdam Sandstoners, will be one of those epic games that fans will be talking about for years to come.
An extra point kick from a sophomore who had kicked exactly zero extra points during his initial varsity season, tried to erase the sound of the excited crowd, tried to dismiss the fact that every Potsdam player on the other side of the line was hell-bent on blocking his kick, did his best to fight off that “what if I miss” feeling… as Jacob Shippee received the snap, expertly placed the ball on the natural grass field that generations of Wildcats have played on over the years, Kyle Savage tried to drown out all the noise… chase away those butterflies… and kick the ball… Savage kicked the ball…
Potsdam failed to get a hand on it… everyone’s eyes followed the path of the football and the official raised his hands in the air, signifying that Kyle’s kick had, indeed, split the uprights… the kick gave the Wildcats a hard-fought 15-14 victory and stretched their regular season winning streak to 26 straight… and only two wins shy of a fourth straight undefeated league season.
Yes this was a game that we’ll remember for a long, long time.
The Wildcats had averaged over 50 points a game during their 4-0 start. They had scored 52 points in the opening quarter, they had only trailed for 93 seconds this season… they had certainly dominated every game they’ve played.
Potsdam also had opened the season in impressive fashion with four easy victories, outscoring their opponents 152-24. This was to be the toughest challenge either team had faced in 2019… and the big crowd that had come out to witness the battle on a picture-perfect fall afternoon, would not be disappointed.
Both teams’ defenses showed that they had come to play after a scoreless opening quarter that featured three punts, one series that was turned over on downs and another that ended with a fumble. Potsdam opened the second quarter with Quarterback Zack Kirka completing a pass on fourth down and eight for a first down, and running back Will Varney, considered one of the best in Section 10, reeled off runs of eight and 11 yards before polishing off the 66-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run. Varney also ran in the two-point conversion to give the visitors an 8-0 lead with 9:24 to play in the half. ‘
The Wildcats received the kickoff and started the drive on their own 23-yard-line. Several running plays steadily marched the ball down the field. Facing a fourth down and 10, the Cats lined up in punt formation, but faked the kick and Joe Cummings gained 11 yards… just enough for the first down. Cayden Stowell ran seven yards to set up a first-and-goal and then polished off the 77-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run. Mitchell Tyler ran in the two-point conversion try to tie the score at 8-8 with 3:02 to play in the half.
For the remainder of the first half, and all of the second, both the Wildcats and Sandstoners defensive units did an excellent job in keeping the opponent off the scoreboard. Stowell stopped one Potsdam drive as he picked off a pass from Kirka. Potsdam put together a goal-line stand in which the Wildcats failed to score from the one-yard-line. The Wildcat defense sacked Kirka on two consecutive plays to break up an impressive Stoner drive. And, late in the fourth quarter, a 43-yard field goal attempt from Potsdam’s Nolan Anderson was blocked by Tyler Tupper. Regulation ended with the scored tied 8-8.
Overtime rules in high school football allow one team to attempt to score from 20 yards out. The opponent then has a try at their own 20-yard drive.
The Wildcats initial drive was thwarted by that goal-line defense of the Sandstoners. Any type of score by Potsdam would end the game. Varney carried for seven yards and then Potsdam were called for back-to-back penalties and turned the ball over on downs.
Potsdam got the ball first in the second overtime and left the outcome up to their talented running back. Varney carried for 7, 6 and 5 yards and polished off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run. The Wildcat defense was up to the challenge on the conversion attempt though as they planted Varney into the ground on the one-yard-line. Potsdam held a 14-8 advantage… but the Wildcats would have their chance to keep their streak alive.
Quarterback Caleb Farr called his own number on first down and ran for eight yards. On second down, Farr surrounded himself with his teammates, and Potsdam players joined the fray, as the giant crown marched steadily towards the goal line… Gouverneur would not be denied as the crowd pushed Farr across the goal line. The two-play drive tied the score at 14 and let the heroic moment up to their talented sophomore. The kick was good and the crowd, as well as the Gouverneur bench, celebrated one hard-fought, well-played football game.
Varney was the star of the Potsdam offense as he carried 28 times for 135 yards. The rest of the team gained a total of 15 yards. Gouverneur shared the running duties as Farr carried 19 times for 68 yards, Tyler had 15 tries for 63 yards and Stowell had a dozen carries for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Elsewhere in the Northern Athletic Conference, Watertown used a 60-yard pass on the last play of the game to beat St. Lawrence Central 28-24; Ogdensburg beat Malone 48-6 and Canton got by Massena 40-22.
Tonight (Friday), for the first time ever, the Wildcats will play a Friday night game under the lights at Frank LaFalce Field. Portable lights will be in place to illuminate the contest between the Wildcats and the Massena Red Raiders. Next Saturday Gouverneur will wrap up the regular season at Canton.
Saturday’s game was dedicated to the memory of George Gordon, a long time teacher and coach at both Gouverneur and Potsdam. Coach Gordon died in Syracuse on October 2… his 63rd birthday would have been on Saturday.