Chris Zabawski went to the sideline and looked at Bill Broggy.
The running back was almost demanding of his coach. He wanted a chance.
“He looked at me and said ‘Give me the ball.’ I’ll never forget it,” Broggy said. Eighteen years later, the former Dover football coach still remembers the respectful, confident tone of his senior’s voice in the moments that led to Dutchess County’s lone New York State Public High School Athletic Association football championship.
The Dragons had battled Christian Brothers Academy to a tie through four quarters and into a second overtime period. The Carrier Dome in Syracuse was louder than a thunderclap on that day, Nov. 28, 1997, Broggy remembered.
With his team 10 yards from the end zone, Broggy called for Zabawski to get the ball, and the senior rushed for eight yards. Teammate Willie Peel took the Dragons the rest of the way, pushing his way to a game-winning touchdown behind the blocking of lineman John Hammond. And, suddenly, Dover was the state’s Class C champion.
“I can’t believe this. This is the happiest day of my life,” Zabawski declared to the Journal as tears flowed 18 years ago. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, rushing for 167 yards.
Soon, those Dragons may have company in knowing what it feels like to become champions.
Last week, Our Lady of Lourdes became the first Dutchess team since Dover to reach the state finals. The Section 1 champion Warriors will face Section 6’s South Park, of Buffalo, in the Class A championship game on Friday at the Carrier Dome.
Kurt Abrams, the quarterback on that state title-winning, and undefeated, Dover team, notices similarities between the 1997 Dragons and the 2015 Warriors.
“Our team in 1997 mirrors the Lourdes team in that a group of enthusiastic, prideful, disciplined athletes challenge the odds knowing that on any given day, victory can be achieved,” Abrams said. “(Our) win resulted from each player on the field doing their job in a perfect storm of executing plays. Ten yards at a time, one game at a time, then you’re champions.”
Abrams said he is rooting for Lourdes. And he’s not the only one.
“I hope all the kids from Lourdes can experience that,” said Chris Lounsbury, Dover’s current head football coach and its defensive coordinator in 1997. “It was a huge deal.”
Nearly three hours after the game began, it ended with a 32-26 final score, and the Dragons piled in a heap on the Carrier Dome’s field.
According to the Journal’s estimates, 800 to 1,000 fans made the trip to Syracuse, including several busloads. The game served as a reunion of sorts for residents of the small town. Craig Bosley, a former Dragon and the older brother of a receiver on the team, Eric Bosley, even flew in for the game.
“It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to Dover Plains, resident Jim Yeno told the Journal at the time, while fellow resident Amy Dye described Dover as a “ghost town,” given how many made the trip to west.
The following day, police cars greeted the team bus eight miles north of the town line on Route 22 and escorted the team back into Dover in an impromptu parade, soon to be joined by firetrucks.
Winning the title came with a few challenges. The biggest test, obviously, was the game itself, in the rocking atmosphere of the Carrier Dome, with its turf field — then, an unfamiliar surface. Geography also added to Dover’s hurdles. Broggy recalled just how difficult it was playing Christian Brothers Academy, a school located in Syracuse, just four miles from the Carrier Dome.
“It was basically a home game for them,” Broggy said. “We were opposite their fans and when they scored — the roar, the elation — that intimidated us. We had never played in a dome before, never played on turf before.”
The noise, Lounsbury said, impacted how the coaches relayed information to the players.
“The kids had never played on a field like that. Both teams probably had their nerves up,” Lounsbury said. “You couldn’t hear anything because of the crowd. It was difficult to communicate with the players on the field.”
The Dragons trailed, 20-12, in the fourth quarter. But, on fourth down, Abrams evaded a swarm of defenders and hit Peel with a pass over the middle that went for a 29-yard touchdown. Broggy then opted to fake the extra-point kick attempt and Abrams ran the ball into the end zone to tie the game at 20. That’s how regulation ended, with the help of a late interception by Dover’s George Morfea to thwart Christian Brothers Academy’s final drive.
After trading touchdowns in the first overtime period, Dover’s defense held Christian Brothers Academy scoreless on its possession in the second overtime, setting up the Dragons’ decisive score.
“It was crazy how it unfolded, looking back on it now,” Abrams said. “As a kid, the whole thing was surreal.”
Dover overcame the obstacles. Lourdes will have to do the same to join the Dragons in football immortality. But if there is any advice the ones who led Dover to the state title can offer the Warriors, it’s to follow your leader.
That, and just play.
“Listen to everything coach (Brian) Walsh tells you. He’s been doing it for a long time,” said Lounsbury. “Ultimately what got Lourdes there was being a team and focusing on football. The joy and excitement will come after. Play football and everything will fall into place.”
“Listen to Brian. He knows what he’s doing,” Broggy said. “The one thing is to play within yourself. Don’t make it bigger than it is. Treat it like another football game when you’re out there. Play football.”
A.J. Martelli: email@example.com, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports
Lourdes vs. South Park
What: Class A state football final
When: Friday, 3 p.m.
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse
TV: Time Warner Cable SportsChannel
Live updates: Follow Journal reporters Stephen Haynes and A.J. Martelli, @StephenHaynes4 and @AJM_PoJoSports on Twitter, throughout Friday for updates and news from Syracuse. Use #OLLStates to join the conversation.