Given their many successes in recent years, including a pair of state championships and a trip to the sectional title game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in each of the past four seasons, it's no secret that this most recent campaign has been what many would call a disappointing one for the Southwestern Trojans.
But while they may have been unable to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in head coach Jay Sirianni's now decade-long tenure, that doesn't mean they were about to take the field with any less enthusiasm than normal when they hosted winless Gowanda in the Class C Chuck Funke Memorial Classic Consolation Bowl on Thursday evening at Charles A. Lawson Field.
"We set lofty goals for ourselves and we didn't meet those goals," Sirianni said. "And I guess you could say it's been disappointing, but it's still not over. We can't make up for anything that has already happened this year. We've been in every game, we just didn't take advantage of opportunities.
Southwestern’s Noah Weinstein breaks off a 33-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter in Thursday’s Class C Chuck Funke Memorial Classic consolation bowl game against Gowanda. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J?photo by Rob Tucker
"But now we have a chance to finish this the right way, and that's where our focus is."
As far as finishing the right way goes, so far, so good.
The Trojans, who have at times struggled to establish the run this season, had no problems in the pouring rain on Thursday evening as they racked up a whopping 348 yards on 37 carries on the way to a 38-0 victory over the visiting Panthers.
The victory, which improved the squad in red and white to 3-5 overall, allowed them to stave off elimination for one more week. They will play their final game of the season on Thursday at Pioneer against either Akron or Falconer.
Sirianni, for his part, was a little surprised by the high rushing total.
"Really?" he said of the number, which was at 204 yards by the break. "That's great because we've struggled to run. On a night like tonight, and given the way we've thrown the ball this year, it was important for us to come out and establish the run game."
They did so on their first possession of the contest.
After Gowanda fumbled the ball on its second play, Southwestern quarterback Noah Weinstein took a keeper for 10 yards to move the Trojans into Panthers' territory. He then added, in between Hunter Peterson runs, sneaks of 6, 15 and then 23 yards to push his team down to the 1. One more keeper and Weinstein was in the end zone, giving the Trojans, following the first of Tanner Hoose's five extra point kicks, a 7-0 lead.
Weinstein was far from finished - he led Southwestern by gaining 170 yards on 14 carries - but took a breather on Trojans' ensuing possession.
Fellow quarterback Jake Pilling stepped in and, on the sixth play of the second drive, emerged from a pile of bodies at the line of scrimmage and rumbled 35 yards across the goal line to make the score 14-0 with a little more than a minute remaining in the opening frame.
Peterson, following his 35-yard punt return, capped a quick, two-play, 21-yard drive early in the second quarter to make the advantage three touchdowns at halftime.
In just one half, Pilling had piled up 60 rushing yards, Peterson 45 and Weinstein 94. It was with Weinstein, who is a sophomore, however, that Sirianni especially impressed.
"This is his first year playing football and he said he wanted to play quarterback," Sirianni said. "So it's taken him some time to get where he's able to (perform). (Tonight) he did great. He's an athlete, so we just let him be an athlete. Our line did a great job and Noah ran very well. It was nice to see.
After a scoreless third, Weinstein delivered his second touchdown of the game from 33 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter. On their next possession, Hoose booted a 24-yard field goal and finally, with only a minute to go, Brandon Himes found paydirt for the first time this season with a 61-yard run right up the gut.
Gowanda, meanwhile, which managed to score just 16 points this season, finished the year with an 0-8 mark and was shut out for the sixth time. The Panthers were led by Brennan Geiger with 41 rushing yards and moved into Southwestern territory - the 22 - just once, midway through the second quarter.
Following the solid victory, Sirianni is hoping for a repeat performance next week.
"We have a chance to finish the season with two wins," he said. "That's something that seniors can take with them, and something for the underclassmen to build upon next year."
Gowanda0 0 0 0 - 0
Southwestern14 7 0 17 - 38
SW - Weinstein 1 run (Hoose kick).
SW - Pilling 35 run (Hoose kick).
SW - Peterson 9 run (Hoose kick).
SW - Weinstein 33 run (Hoose kick).
SW - Hoose 24 FG.
SW - Himes 61 run (Hoose kick).