FOOTBALL PREVIEW: VESTAL PREPARES FOR REGIONAL MATCHUP AGAINST EXPLOSIVE SECTION III CHAMPION WHITESBORO
By ANTHONY GOSS
Broome County Sports Report
VESTAL — Nine games through the 2023 Vestal football season, the Golden Bears displayed dominance through the majority of their slate and have overcome almost all the obstacles in their way.
But a slew of adversity stemming from last week's Section IV championship has challenged Vestal ahead of Friday's regional matchup.
Liam Nealy, the Golden Bears' star running back and linebacker, remains ineligible for one game after receiving a targeting penalty in Friday's win over Horseheads.
The penalty resulted in an ejection and because the penalty occurred in the second half, Nealy will not play this week. Additionally, season-ending injuries will keep defensive end and fullback Logan McNamara sidelined through the remainder of the season.
However, head coach Jim Crunden and his team remain undeterred in their preparation for the Section III Class A champion Whitesboro.
"One thing we're not going to do is go away from what got us here," Crunden said. "We firmly believe that we are still just as strong with what we have out there and we have to maintain that positive attitude."
Crunden and his staff continue to teach the importance of overcoming adversity. This week, the Golden Bears undertake that message on the biggest stage of their season thus far.
"We know every Friday night that sometime in that two-hour period that you as an individual and us as a team will have to overcome adversity," Crunden said. "This is just an extension of that."
One positive that Vestal will lean on lies in the experience of senior quarterback Cam Schaffer. To Crunden, there's no number or figure that demonstrates the importance of having his leadership under center.
"Can't even speak on how important it is. He knows exactly what to do," Crunden said. "Cam has been a leader since day one. Every week he gets a little more comfortable, a little more confident."
The senior operated with precision and command of his offense against Horseheads, completing 10 of 11 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Schaffer added three carries for 22 yards on the ground in the game.
Senior Jackson Hines and junior Pierre DeVaughn assume the responsibilities out of the Vestal backfield this week with Nealy unavailable.
The Golden Bears gashed the Blue Raiders for 247 rushing yards in the sectional championship. Crunden hopes to continue the team's success on the ground this week.
"We're going to give the ball to Jackson Hines, we're going to give the ball to Pierre, we're going to trust that they can get ahead for four, five or six yards and trust that they can grind it out," he said. "If our offense can sustain some drives that's a great defense."
The Golden Bears will need defense in any fashion while dealing with an explosive Whitesboro offense. Since losing their first game, the Warriors have won 10 straight and have posted more than 40 points in each contest.
"A whole lot of offense," Crunden said in describing his opponent. "A majority of it if not all of it goes through the quarterback."
That quarterback, Kyle Meier, tallied 263 rushing yards and six total touchdowns against East Syracuse Minoa in the Section III final.
"It begins and ends with number 11," Crunden said. "You really got to hold him down if you have any chance of slowing down that offensive machine."
Containing Meier's dual-threat ability proves key for the Golden Bears in this game.
"He's just as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm," Crunden said. "Having to defend that eleventh man is going to be a difficult challenge for us."
But Vestal believes it has the speed advantage heading into this game. Crunden hopes that aspect of his defense will help in the efforts of bottling up a potent offense.
"That's one area where we do have the plus. I think we do match up well speed-wise," he said. "If we can get to him before he gets that head of steam, maybe we can slow him down."
Another key heading into this game glares in handling the late game. Both Vestal and Whitesboro have held substantial leads in the majority of their games.
This means a close contest could test the game management and preparedness of both teams in the fourth quarter.
"Just like us they have one loss on the year and pretty much every game they were in the second half was mop-up time. Neither one of us has really had to play through the fourth quarter," Crunden said. "If this game holds true, I think that it's going to be the team that can reach down and produce that's going to be the victor."
Regardless of the adversity the Golden Bears face heading into this game, the team looks to embrace these challenges and take one more on its home field Friday night.
"We're not holding anything back," Crunden said. "Our philosophy is a game at a time, a week at a time. We are focused on Friday night."
PICTURED IN PHOTO: VESTAL QUARTERBACK CAM SCHAFFER —— PHOTO BY ANTHONY GOSS
Print Friendly Version