With the Section 6 Class D semifinal all but decided, Dalton Bolles, Oliver Simpson and Jon Scroxton retreated to the far end of the Maple Grove bench Friday night and together carried the sport drink bucket in the direction of the sideline.
At just the right moment, the trio hoisted the container in the air, tipped it and let the contents spill onto the head of Red Dragons' assistant coach Dave Emley.
It was a celebratory bath that could have easily been administered to any number of Red Dragons on a rainy night on the Dutch Hollow Road.
Maple Grove’s Oliver Simpson fights for extra yards as Portville’s Matt Wetzler tries to bring him down during Friday night’s Class D semifinal game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Scott Reagle
Chief among them was Simpson.
The senior running back rushed for 231 yards on 31 carries and scored four touchdowns to lead the Red Dragons to a 36-15 victory over Portville. Maple Grove (9-0), the top-ranked Class D team in the state, will now meet arch-rival Randolph (7-2) in the sectional championship game next week. That game will be played at 6 p.m., Friday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The 15th-ranked Cardinals (7-2) advanced to the title game by virtue of a 35-14 win over Silver Creek in the other semifinal.
''I feel like we're playing good, so I'm looking forward to it as much as (Randolph is) looking forward to it,'' said Red Dragons' coach Curt Fischer, who will be making his 13th sectional title appearance in the last 17 years. ''I think we both take pride that we're the two best teams and we deserve to be there. It's going to be a great game.''
Speaking of great games, Simpson may have turned in his best of the season, given the weather conditions.
Beyond the blocking of Bolles, Howie Nolan, Matt Golombek, Mike Burns, Lee Wascher, Scroxton and Jake Swan, Simpson showed his running talents between the tackles as well as on the perimeter. His touchdown runs were from 38, 25, 1 and 19 yards,
''He's an unbelievable young man,'' Fischer said. ''For his size, he runs the ball hard, carries people and runs people over. He's just a special kid.''
The emphasis on the running game - necessary because of the weather conditions - was the plan all week and, in fact, has been all season.
''It's been a strange season for me going back to the old running game,'' Fischer said, ''but that's what this team has worked for. A lot of those linemen have lifted weights all year and it's paid off.''
Ironically, it was Portville's ground game that delivered the figurative first punch as Zach Wood burst down the far sideline, cut back and outraced the Red Dragons' pursuit into the end zone to complete a 65-yard scoring play. Ben Waugh conveted the two-point conversion run and the Panthers led, 8-0, with just over a minute gone in the game.
But Maple Grove needed just three plays to tie it when Simpson scored on a 38-yard burst and quarterback Aaron Germain hit a wide-open Bolles in the end zone for the two-point conversion.
The Red Dragons added another first-half TD - Simpson scored from 25 yards out a minute into the second quarter - but they could have had more were it not for untimely penalties and a turnover deep in Portville territory that negated an almost-certain score.
Simpson's 1-yard run late in third quarter, followed by Erik Olson's second of four successful point-after kicks, pushed the host's lead to 22-8. And, with the rain pouring down, Portville's chances of a comeback appeared remote.
Simpson completed his night with a 19-yard TD burst midway through the fourth quarter and the Red Dragons capped their night when Scroxton, getting a rare chance to carry the ball, scored from the 1. The final touchdown was set up by an interception by Brian Gorman.
''One of the nicest things was getting Jon Scroxton a touchdown at the end,'' Fischer said of his senior captain, who missed the season's first two games following a serious illness. ''It's something he always wanted to do. I love to pay off a kid who has worked that hard. What he has gone through really brought us together as a team.''
Portville scored the final touchdown when quarterback Brett Marcellin found paydirt from the 7 with under two minutes remaining.
By that point, Bolles, Simpson and Scroxton had already administered their ''we're-headed-to-the-Ralph'' ritual.
Next on the schedule?
''I kind of knew that if we got through this great team here, that's who it would be,'' Fischer said.
NOTES: Jonah Tanner led Maple Grove's defense, recording four solo tackles and five assists. ... In an early-season meeting, Maple Grove defeated Randolph, 27-14, but the Cardinals have won six straight since.
Portville8 0 0 7 - 15
Maple Grove8 7 7 14 - 36
Por-Wood 65 run (Waugh run)
MG-Simpson 38 run (Bolles pass from Germain)
MG-Simpson 25 run (Olson kick)
MG-Simpson 1 run (Olson kick)
MG-Simpson 19 run (Olson kick)
MG-Scroxton 1 run (Olson kick)
Por-Marcellin 7 run (kick good)