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High school football: Championship squads could do it again

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Five sectional finalists, including two-head-to-head matchups that produced two north country class champions.

Two conference winners, three runners-up and a third-place finisher.

Frontier League teams achieved unprecedented success last year in Section 3 football, raising expectations to an extremely high level for years to come. Carthage and General Brown secured Section 3 titles, Indian River, Immaculate Heart Central and Sandy Creek placed second, and Thousand Islands came within a point of making the Class C title game.

The big question this season is, can that amazing campaign be duplicated? And are the previously mentioned teams the ones to beat again?

The answers will come starting tonight as the area season kicks off with Beaver River playing at Lowville in an interclass game. A preliminary look at the local teams indicates that, yes, there is enough talent returning for those five clubs to be in the running for sectional titles again.

“The target is squarely on our backs this time,” said Carthage coach Sam Millich, whose Comets secured their first Class A title since 2007 with a dramatic 21-20 win over Indian River in the championship game at the Carrier Dome. “But now that we’ve achieved this status, we don’t want to let down. We want to keep building the program.”

The same can be said of the other contenders. They’ve had a taste of sectional success. Now they want to establish a program that contends on an annual basis.

Despite the loss of All-North performers such as quarterback Bailey Wilkinson and lineman Trevor Gibbons plus several others, Carthage has another deep, talented squad. Not only do 21 veterans return, the last two Carthage JV teams finished unbeaten and have continued the pipeline to the varsity.

Indian River returns almost its entire backfield, led by dynamic quarterback Densel Barnes, and outstanding linemen such as Jonah Raydo and Tyler Wright.

The Sept. 19 game between the Comets and Warriors at Indian River may again determine the Class A National champion.

Perennial power Whitesboro, as well as East Syracuse-Minoa and Jamesville-DeWitt (Indian River’s opening game foe) should also be in the mix.

Watertown has a new coach in Kyle LaLonde and a ton of new players, so the Cyclones will likely struggle.

South Jefferson has a veteran-laden club that could very well contend for a Class B playoff spot. With most of his offense back, including quarterback Adam Hutchinson and 1,000-yard rusher Dylan Beckstead, coach Pat Conners has a team that could score a lot of points. How healthy the thin Spartans remain will be a key factor in whether they can play with the likes of defending champion Cazenovia, Homer and Oneida.

Class C North figures to be one of the most intriguing conferences in the entire section. Not only does defending sectional champion General Brown have many of the pieces to defend its crown, so does Thousand Islands.

The Lions feature a loaded backfield, led by All-North back Zech Pitre and quarterback Even Will. Coach Steve Fisher must replace several of his key linemen and defenders, but this club potentially could be better than last year’s.

Thousand Islands hopes to build off their late-season success of a year ago, which saw the Vikings beat then undefeated Sherburne-Earlville and almost upset then-unbeaten IHC. With an outstanding runner in Collin Bourcy, and a veteran quarterback in Tyler Gilfus, Thousand Islands should be an offensive force. And the defense also looks improved.

IHC lost a ton from its Class C North championship club, but coach Paul Alteri still has quarterback Cole Carpenter and a good-looking group of sophomores.

Lowville, hit by the injury bug last season, also figures to be in the mix along with Pulaski, which moved up from Class D.

Utica Notre Dame, Sherburne-Earlville and Syracuse Institute of Technology are also highly-regarded in Class C, as is defending Class D champ Herkimer, which has moved back up to Class C.

Class D has been trimmed to just 10 teams in two divisions with several of its clubs, including South Lewis, off to the new National Football Foundation League. But look for the same teams such as Sandy Creek, Westmoreland and Dolgeville to be among the top contenders.

The Comets lost veteran linemen Matt Ennist and Zac Akey, both of whom transferred. But coach Mike Stevens has versatile quarterback Kyle Fayette leading an offense that also features speedy back Cameron Hall and tight end tight end Zach Halsey.

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