SYRACUSE - An era came to a remarkable - and fitting - end Friday afternoon at the Carrier Dome.
Pat Slater, who has coached the Randolph Cardinals football team since 1979, has decided to step down, but not before guiding the Cardinals to their third New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship.
Sparked by a strong defensive effort and four rushing touchdowns, the top-ranked Cardinals knocked off No. 2 Tuckahoe of Section 1, 28-7, before a large contingent of Randolph faithful.
Randolph head coach Pat Slater hugs senior Ryan Styles after the Cardinals’ New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship victory over Tuckahoe on Friday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
''You could have robbed the town,'' Slater said with a laugh. ''There wasn't anybody left (at home).''
Maybe the fans wanted to send their beloved coach off in style, too.
With his wife and two adult children looking on, Slater watched his team continue a proud tradition that took root a generation ago and has returned a bountiful harvest in the last two decades, including state crowns in 2005 and 2009.
''He didn't really tell us (he was going to retire),'' said senior Jordan Dowiasz, who rushed for 145 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns. We just heard through the grapevine that he bought a house in Florida and was leaving, so he could see his kids more.''
Slater's son, Shane, lives in the state of Washington, while his daughter, Summer, resides in Louisiana, so he thought it was time for he and his wife Dawn to do some traveling and enjoy their family.
''I learned a long time ago that family is here a short time,'' he said. ''I want to spend time (with them).''
Slater leaves with 213 career wins, eight Section 6 championships and the three state crowns, but the life lessons he's imparted to his players - past and present - is incalculable.
''He means everything to us,'' said junior Cody Oldro, who was the game's most valuable player. ''We love him like he's our own dad. He takes care of us, works us hard every day and we thank him for it every single day.''
In his typical style, Slater downplayed his role, crediting his assistant coaches, which include Brent Brown, Gerald Carlson, Kevin Hind and Nate Armella. Two other former players, Greg Sherlock and Lucas Burch, have also played important roles in the team's success.
''All these guys step in and everybody works together, and that's what it's all about,'' Slater said. ''It's not one person, believe me. Everybody has to pull their own weight and these guys all do.''
But whether he liked it or not, it was hard not to notice the normally stoic coach get emotional once the game was decided. Slater exchanged hugs with players, assistant coaches and other support personnel, and then accepted the state championship plaque.
All the while the he struggled to keep his composure.
''Seeing my coach cry,'' Dowiasz said, ''brought tears to my eyes, too.''