ITHACA – The Lansing football team made a memorable late-season push to the Section 4 Division V title a year ago before falling to Newark Valley in the Class C playoffs.
This season, Coach John Winslow’s Bobcats get a very early test to see how prepared they might be for another postseason run.
Lansing heads 38 miles south to Tioga Center on Friday night for its opener against four-time defending Class D sectional champion Tioga. It is one of five season-openers this weekend involving county schools, with another couple of interesting games involving area schools on tap as well.
Groton is scheduled to play its first game in the Tom Goddard era on Thursday evening at Unadilla Valley. The Indians are coming off a 2-6 season that included a forfeit victory over Odessa-Montour, which played only two games before abandoning the season due to low numbers.
Friday night’s other openers involving area schools include: Ithaca — riding a state-long 24-game losing streak — at Vestal; Moravia at Dryden; and Candor at Spencer-Van Etten in the annual “Jug” rivalry. On Saturday, Newfield, under first-year coach Chris Bubble, entertains Harpursville-Afton in a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.
And on Sunday, Newark Valley — runner-up in Section 4 Class C a year ago — travels to Syracuse for a 3 p.m. clash with Utica Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome.
Winslow’s Bobcats finished 6-2 last season, including a riveting 48-38 defeat of Watkins Glen in the regular-season finale that gave Lansing the division crown. Lansing trailed then Glen, 24-6, in the first half as the double-wing attack of the Senecas had Lansing baffled, but a defensive adjustment and the running of then-sophomore Tim Kelley turned the tide.
But the season ended a week later with a 17-14 overtime loss to the Cardinals in the Section 4 Class C tournament. Gone from that playoff squad are all-state linebacker Brandon Davis — the “heart” of the team, Winslow said last year — and his identical twin brother, Owen, who are both attending Alfred State College and playing football. Also gone are 6-5 end Logan Osterman and two-way lineman Patrick Judd.
But returning is 5-foot-9, 180-pound Kelley, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year. Winslow declared that Kelley “will be the best football player ever to graduate from Lansing High School. He will be tough to contain.”
Other key returnees are junior lineman Logan Boothe, senior tackle Owen Carrican and senior defensive back/quarterback Zach Detrich, the captains, along with sophomore WR/DB Jared Strait, whose placekicking skills will no doubt be a weapon for Winslow’s crew.
ITHACA: The Little Red hasn’t won a game since week 3 of the 2012 season, but third-year coach Kelly Gordon is optimistic that the culture — and the scoreboard — will change this year.
“We have solid depth this year, much more than the past two years,” the 2007 Ithaca College graduate said, “and we will have guys pushing each other for starting positions every week. The team has come together during preseason and is a very tight knit group.
“We are expecting a lot from them this year,” he said, “and I think we are going to surprise some people.”
Key offensive returnees include junior quarterback/DB Turner DePalma, senior lineman Jack Cesari, senior wideouts Jordan Ayers and DJ Davis and senior tight end Caleb Klausner. On defense, the line will be anchored by seniors Tucker Ainsle, Jordan Harris and DJ LaFave, with backfield stalwarts including junior linebacker Steve Burun and cornerback Khiry Brown.
Ithaca has won just two of its last 31 games — including a 33-30 win at Vestal on Sept. 23, 2011 — over the last four years. Its most recent victory came over Johnson City, 48-35, on Sept. 15, 2012.
DRYDEN: Coach Ralph Boettger has high hopes for his Lions, who went 4-4 overall, 1-3 in Division V a year ago, including a key three-game losing streak mid-season. But two victories in its final three games gave Dryden a boost of confidence heading into the offseason, Boettger said.
Part of the reason for his optimism is the return 13 starters, including 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior Stu Stahlman, who figures to be a load to bring down out of the offensive backfield. Stahlman, also a linebacker, accounted for more than 2,400 yards of offense last year en route to all-Section 4 honors.
Senior Trevor Gardner will be calling the signals and was an all-league honorable mention in 2014. On defense, senior inside linebacker Connor O’Brien was honorable mention all-league, as well, and Connor Johnston is a “tough as nails” defensive back, Boettger said.
NEWFIELD: First-year coach Chris Bubble takes over for Dan Donahue, whose full-time job commitments with the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office forced him to step away back in the spring. Newfield fielded a football team for the first time since 2011 last season and finished 2-6, including a 1-0 forfeit win over Odessa-Montour. It snapped a 22-game losing streak dating back to 2009 with a 22-14 victory at Groton in late September.
Bubble has just 23 players on the roster and only five seniors, but insisted that “we are not going to let our inexperience dictate our expectations.”
Senior co-captain Cole Banfield, a quarterback/safety, will hope to translate the success he helped orchestrate as point guard for the Trojans’ Section 4 champion basketball team onto the football field. He’s the “physical and emotional leader,” Bubble said, and has progressed as a thrower in offseason workouts to where he should be more of a dual threat.
Junior outside linebacker Eric Allen, the other captain, is an athletic playmaker who runs and tackles well, Bubble said. He also is a tough run- and pass-blocking fullback. Senior inside linebacker Jeremiah Warnimont is the “heart of the defense,” Bubble said, and is also an offensive tackle charged with protecting Banfield’s blind side.
“Our goal continues to be to get better every day,” Bubble said, “hoping it leads to positive and productive results.”
NEWARK VALLEY: The Cardinals fell just short of a sectional title last year, losing in the Class C final to three-time defending champion Chenango Forks, 42-21. Gone from that squad is all-state quarterback/defensive back Vinnie Darpino, a first-team all-state linebacker and running quarterback who averaged nearly 10 yards a carry. Darpino is now at SUNY Morrisville.
Coach Brian Sherwood said his team will continue with its fast-paced option offense, this year with converted running back Nick Schermerhorn at the controls. Schermerhorn, a captain this season, rushed for 606 yards (9.2 yards/carry) last year; also figuring to get lots of offensive touches is junior RB David Crow, who averaged 12.2 yards in limited action last year, along with classmate Brett Stewart, who missed six games last season due to injury.
Senior linebacker Shawn Potter, a converted tackle, will anchor the defense while Schermerhorn will shift from LB to cornerback.
The Cardinals and their opening opponent, Utica Notre Dame, have one thing in common: Their 2014 seasons were both ended by Chenango Forks, NV’s in the sectional final, the Jugglers’ in the first round of states.
Section 4 Football
Week 1 Schedule
Groton at Unadilla Valley, 7
Ithaca at Vestal, 7
Moravia at Dryden, 7
Lansing at Tioga, 7
Candor at Spencer-Van Etten, 7
Harpursville/Afton at Newfield, 1:30
Newark Valley vs. Utica Notre Dame, at Carrier Dome, 3