The Victor Blue Devils did indeed win the 2016 Section V Class AA title, and did so with style.
That style was not exactly finesse, more like grinding with a capital G or pounding with a big P.
Named the team to beat, the front-runner for this season’s championship, the Blue Devils are turning challengers back, including Pittsford 21-7 Saturday night in the AA final at Rhinos Stadium.
The Blue Devils have two sectional titles in the last three years after replacing 2015 state champion Aquinas at the top of Section V’s classification for the largest schools.
“Words can’t describe how great it feels,” Victor senior end/running back Zack Estabrooks said. “We’ve worked so hard. Finally, we deserve this.
“We’ve been practicing 10 weeks for this game.”
There is another to prepare for, with Victor advancing to the state regional round to face Lancaster, the Buffalo-region champion. Just like this game, the Blue Devils will go into that playoff game as the No. 1 ranked team in the state, according to the New York State Sportswriters Association.
“We’re not done, we’re not done yet,” Victor junior receiver/safety Andrew Russell said. “This feels good, but we have to show up Monday and get back to work.”
Victor went to work in the Class AA sectional final, as they gained 391 yards of offense. All but 59 came on the ground. Russell was named Most Valuable Player, as he was the statistical leader of the ball carriers with 114 yards on 10 attempts. Chris Varone added 84 yards on nine carries.
“I think the story was our defense,” Victor coach Geoff Mandile said. “I don’t think they had a first down in the second half until the last drive.
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“Offensively, once we got the lead we put it away like we do.”
The Blue Devils seemed to surge downfield after receiving the opening kickoff. Clay Bleier connected with Mike Novitsky for a 35-yard pass play. Three plays later, Bleier threw to Novitsky again, for a 14-yard touchdown.
Pittsford fumbled the ball away late in the first quarter, but Chris Cox took it right back for the Panthers with a one-handed interception. The Panthers then pushed their way to the end zone after the interception, scoring on a 1-yard run into a pile of people by Michael DeLucia with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter.
The Blue Devils regained the lead with an eight-play, 80-yard drive. Victor’s running game rolled downfield and into the end zone on a 5-yard run by Estabrooks, who had two hands on the ball when he crossed the goal line with 2:05 remaining in the second quarter. The Panthers blocked Victor’s conversion kick attempt to keep the score 13-7.
Victor needed one play in the second half to extend its lead. Russell lined up at quarterback, took the snap, ran to his left and kept right on going for a 79-yard touchdown. He then ran in the conversion attempt to make the score 21-7.
The Panthers, because they were in a hole, went for a conversion on fourth-and-3 at the Pittsford 45 with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter. Pittsford quarterback Colby Barker faked a handoff and took off to his right, in a version of a play that worked in the first half. Not this time, as Barker was dragged down for a loss.
Victor failed to make Pittsford pay with points, but the outcome seemed clear. The Panthers were even denied a touchdown in the final seconds by Victor’s defense.
Victor 23, Pittsford 7
Pittsford 0 7 0 0 — 7
Victor 7 6 8 2 — 23
P – Michael DeLucia 1 run (Max Hopfinger kick)
V – Mike Novitsky 14 pass Clay Bleier (Sam Castiglia kick)
V – Zack Estabrooks 5 run (Castiglia kick)
V – Andrew Russell 79 run (Castiglia kick)
V – Safety, Ryan Flaitz
Most Valuable Player: Andrew Russell (Victor). Roger Bunce Sportsmanship: Matt Gardner (Victor) and Jake BeLias (Pittsford). Outstanding offensive back: Zack Estabrooks (Victor). Outstanding offensive lineman: Ryan Flaitz (Victor). Outstanding defensive lineman: Alonso Person (Pittsford). Outstanding defensive back: Jared Petrichick (Pittsford).