Several players on this years Indian River football remember how awesome it felt to play a nonleague game against East Syracuse-Minoa in the Carrier Dome to start last season.
Imagine the euphoria the Warriors feel today, having earned their way back to the Dome, this time to play for a Section 3 championship.
Junior quarterback Denzel Barnes and sophomore running back Dustin Sharrit each scored two touchdowns Friday night as the top-seeded Warriors (8-1) claimed a spot in Saturdays 6 p.m. title game with a 31-14 win over No. 4 Jamesville-DeWitt at Watertown High School.
Awaiting Indian River in the Dome is Class A National neighbor Carthage. The No. 3 Comets knocked off No. 2 East Syracuse-Minoa 43-36 in Fulton to get a chance to avenge a 48-12 home loss to the Warriors on Oct. 11.
Its an amazing feeling, to know we played our way back (to the Dome), said Indian River junior defensive lineman Jonah Raydo. This team is so close. Its like a really tight family that has worked hard toward one goal and overcome a lot of adversity. And now its become a reality.
Indian River, which won its only Section 3 title in Class C way back in 1987, took an early 7-0 lead, but the Red Rams (5-3) tied it at 7-7 at halftime following a long second-quarter drive.
However, Barnes guided the Warriors to touchdowns on their first two possessions, scoring both himself. Zachary LaForest-Hurd booted a 35-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, and Sharrit tacked on an insurance score late in the final quarter.
We changed up a few blocking schemes at halftime, and that helped open things up a little, said Indian River coach Cory Marsell. Denzel made some nice reads on a couple of those big plays, and we just executed a lot better the second half.
Indian Rivers defense allowed just 145 total yards, and forced three turnovers, including interceptions by Elijah Franklin and Barnes.
They were really physical and we tried to do the same thing, Raydo said. I just think we came out after halftime really ready to take control.
Barnes said it was just a matter of time until the Indian River offense found its stride.
They were doing a really good job with penetration the first half, said Barnes, who finished with 60 rushing yards on 21 carries. Our line came off the ball a little better the second half, and our backs got to the line a little quicker. That made a big difference.
Indian Rivers first touchdown came almost too easily. Taking over at the J-D 37 after a short 12-yard Red Rams punt into a stiff wind, the Warriors were in the end zone in just four plays as Sharrit ran the final eight yards. LaForest-Hurd then booted the first of his four PATs with less than four minutes gone.
However, Indian Rivers other three possessions of the first half produced nothing. Jamesville-DeWitt then reeled off a 13-play, 65-yard march that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown by Ernest Shaw with 3/12 minutes left before halftime.
We felt pretty good to be tied, but we knew they were capable of breaking it open at any time, said J-D coach Eric Ormond.
A 30-yard gallop by senior Jakese Crockett and a 15-yard scamper by Sharrit on back-to-back plays put Indian River close to the J-D goal line, and Barnes converted on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter.
Franklin picked off Nate Shapiros first pass of the game on the Red Rams first play of the quarter. And Barnes dashed the final 16 yards for a third touchdown just two minutes later to make it 21-7.
Indian Rivers only miscue of the game, a Deondre Grier fumble deep in his own territory, led to Shapiros 1-yard TD run in the final minute of the third quarter.
But the Warriors turned a Shapiro fumble into a field goal to put Indian River up 24-14. And a Barnes interception and long return all but ended J-Ds hopes of an upset.
Weve made great progress this year, but there are still areas we need to clean up, Marsell said. If we do that, I think we could become a great team.