STORY and BOXSCORE by CHRIS BROOKS, sports editor, wellsvillesports.com
CANISTEO — The Game of the Week. Or even, the Game of the Year. Call it what you must, but it was a matchup of immense magnitude on a cool, Friday, October 8 fall night that was circled on almost every calendar hanging on the wall.
As an added bonus, it was a showcase that saw two of New York State’s finest in 8-Man football square off in a good old fashioned Southern Tier showdown. The 5-0 Bolivar-Richburg Wolverines, ranked No. 2, going toe-to-toe with the 5-0 Canisteo-Greenwood Redskins — sitting above them at No. 1, in their first renewal of their football rivalry in nearly three years, in front of a packed house in Canisteo.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
With massive Sectional implications hanging in the balance just a couple of weeks before the big dance, something most certainly had to give way. It would begin in the very first possessions for each team. For one team, that element would help determine the game from the start, all the way to the finish.
Canisteo-Greenwood was on it early.
After sending Bolivar-Richburg backwards on their first drive on defense, that set up shop for the offense to take over for their first drive. In it, came a score — on the very first play, as Collin Cox tossed up a home run ball to J.J. Reese on the run, skating past a pair of defenders down the near sidelines and into the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown — a score that wound up allowing the Redskins to set a bar that the Wolverines could not match, as the State’s No. 1 rolled to a sixth straight win while handing out a first loss in the process by a 36-6 count.
The pass game, led by Cox and his three first half touchdowns through the air, was an element to their game that Canisteo-Greenwood coach Steve Donlon knew had to happen against one of the more stout defenses in Bolivar-Richburg.
“We knew Bolivar-Richburg and what they’re all about. They are coached extremely well by Coach (Steve) Smith. We knew the defense was going to be as tough as it was, and that was by no surprise,” he said. “Keegan (Foote) didn’t do what he normally does, but we also knew that wasn’t going to happen against a team that is as good as they are. We had to pull out something else, and we’ve been working on plays since the summer, outside of what we usually do. Roque (Santiago) has been helping our offense do that, and it has worked really well. Everyone stepped up, including Collin, he threw the ball really well when he needed to. We needed it.”
The first play from scrimmage for the Redskins (6-0) was the lone scoring play across a first quarter that saw Bolivar-Richburg come up dry on their first two possessions of the night, all paid in part by the defense put on by the hosts in red and white. It was a task that Canisteo-Greenwood was sanctioned with all night long — keeping the Wolverines rush attack, the pinnacle to their offense, at bay.
For the most part they did. The lead for the Redskins grew out to 14 after they recorded eight points off a Beau Zeh interception deep in Bolivar-Richburg territory, as Cox connected with Paiton Davis in the corner of the end zone after being knocked backwards a couple of times by the Wolverines (5-1) defense before the huge fourth down pass was made to finish off the drive.
On the very next drive, the Wolverines responded after a trick play hidden deep within their playbook came to fruition. On a Caden Allen toss to Ethan Coleman running right in the back field, the Bolivar-Richburg running back stopped and pivoted with a throw back across his body to a diving Allen on a Bolivar-Richburg Special to convert a huge third down play just past midfield.
The next play, Coleman was rewarded for such a play by taking the next handoff in the backfield, finding a seam down the far sidelines and into the end zone from 43 yards out to get the Wolverines on the board, cutting their deficit to eight.
Slowly but surely on what was the final drive of the first half, the Redskins would work their way back down the field after a series of runs led by Keegan Foote in the backfield. Running time off the clock, the long drive was capped off after a fourth down run from Cox finds him at the Wolverines 8 with seconds remaining. After a brief timeout, the 14-point advantage re-blossomed again with another Cox touchdown to Reese in the back of the end zone, into double coverage.
A 22-6 halftime lead for the Redskins.
“Ethan’s been known to try and break open the game, he’s done that multiple times this year. We felt good when we scored. We were down 14-6 and we ended up giving them a short field to work with before the half,” said Wolverines coach Steve Smith. “All of a sudden, you’re treading water after that. You’re trying to come back and dig, but they’re just too darn good to get down a couple of scores to. We knew that, and we knew that if we got behind, it was going to be a struggle. We were hoping to stay close, and hopefully make it a one-possession game. They’re undefeated for a reason.”
But that would be all Bolivar-Richburg could muster for the rest of the game. From the second half on, the Redskins buckled in.
Throughout the last 24 minutes, the Canisteo-Greenwood defense took the main stage and held Bolivar-Richburg down. After each team traded a turnover-on-downs sequence, the defense would force the ball away from Bolivar-Richburg one more time in the third quarter after knocking them backwards into losing yardage, stemming off a big hit in the backfield to record a three-and-out.
On the ensuing punt, it was returned by Lucas Mason all the way up to the Bolivar-Richburg 10-yard line, where at the start of the fourth quarter, it was capped off on a very short distance run from Foote — his first of two fourth quarter scores, to branch out the lead even further for the hosts.
Donlon commended his defense for their incredible stand across the entire second half to keep the Wolverines frozen in their tracks.
“Our defense is the best part of what we do,” he said. “Our linebackers are fast, our ends play well. We have guys in the middle who can rip and get in there. I told these guys at halftime, the defense has to swarm and take the win right out of their sails, because they’re going to try and do something. They make me proud every week, and watching them reminds me of being back at Hornell. The kids are always around the ball, just like Hornell is. They know how to pressure.”
The Wolverines would try to re-ignite their fire late in the fourth quarter after a big Trent Sibble sack knocked the Canisteo-Greenwood offense backwards on fourth down to force the ball back over to their offense at the 45-yard line. With six minutes left, the Redskins defense would provide one final, resounding display of defense to keep Bolivar-Richburg off the board with another turnover-on-downs to send the offense back out.
With it, was their final score of the game on their first play. If there was any doubt regarding the victory at the final buzzer, there was none left after Foote scampered off on a 60-yard run to put a cap on an incredible display of football from start to finish, remaining undefeated and at the top of New York State’s throne with their sixth straight win.
“I liked our effort, and they played hard, but we gave up some stuff that we had not given up all year,” Smith said. “We had not seen as good of a team as Canisteo-Greenwood was all night. We were exposed in some areas, but I thought our defense did well with the Foote kid. He had the long 60-yard touchdown right at the end, but we were doing well not giving up on the big plays. Obviously in 8-man, you’re going to bend a little bit. We bent quite a bit, and we really didn’t fall apart on the run. But Foote is everything as advertised for them.”
Foote would finish with his 157 yards rushing and his two scores in the last 12 minutes of play.
As for the win itself, Donlon considers it massive.
“We thought this was essential. We had a great game and got by Pembroke, who is absolutely fantastic. We had to have this game, because of the seedings. If everyone is 7-1, we would be around the third seed. Now we can lock up home field for the playoffs if the last two weeks go as we hope it will,” he said. “It could have been a trip to Pembroke or Bolivar. We knew that, and we knew how tough this tonight was going to be. They played like a No. 2 team, they’re our rivals and have been for a long time, even back in 11-man. It was a great feeling, this game.”
As for the Wolverines, the No. 2 ranking in the State has been the highest the program has ever been across all walks of life to come and go on the football field. For Smith, he says it’s a testament to the local talent that both teams possess, and that the hope is to meet in Sectionals one more time.
For all the marbles.
“We’ve been fighting down in this area for years to earn some recognition from Section V with the majority of the teams to the north of us,” Smith said. “There’s been some great football down this way for a while that a lot of folks might not have seen, so this was a great showing. I hope we see C-G again, and I told Coach Donlon after the game that I hope we do it again. We’ve got to regroup, put this one behind us and learn from it. That’s the big thing. It’s a big welcome to adversity. You’re cruising along and you aren’t tested, it will kill us.”
Leading the defense for the Wolverines was Trent Sibble, who had five tackles and one sack. Caden Allen recorded five tackles, while Tavyn MacDonell recorded four more, and also tallied a sack.
Canisteo-Greenwood will begin to close out their regular season with back-to-back road trips beginning at C.G. Finney/Northstar next Saturday afternoon in a 1 p.m. kickoff. As for Bolivar-Richburg, they’re back home to Dunsmore-Latimer Field for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the Pembroke Dragons, next Friday.
Bolivar-Richburg 0 6 0 0 – 6
Canisteo-Greenwood 6 16 0 14 – 36
C-G – J.J. Reese 60-yard pass from Collin Cox, 2-pts failed (6-0 C-G)
C-G – Paiton Davis 10-yard pass from Collin Cox, 2-pts good (14-0 C-G)
B-R – Ethan Coleman 43-yard run, 2-pts failed (14-6 C-G)
C-G – J.J. Reese 8-yard pass from Collin Cox, 2-pts good (22-6 C-G)
C-G – Keegan Foote 4-yard run, 2-pts failed (28-6 C-G)
C-G – Keegan Foote 60-yard run, 2-pts good (36-6 C-G)
Total Yards: B-R 165, C-G 265.
First Downs: B-R 8, C-G 13.
Turnovers: B-R 1, C-G 0.
Penalties: B-R 2-10, C-G 2-23.
Punts: B-R 3-33, C-G 1-30.
T.O.P: B-R 29:01, C-G 24:41.
PHOTO GALLERY by STEVE HARRISON and CHRIS BROOKS: