The eight-man football season is coming to a close, and the last two Section IV teams standing are Lansing and Newfield. The Bobcats and the Trojans will square off on Saturday in Johnson City to determine this year’s champion.
While the Bobcats came into 2019 as the section’s runner-up from the year prior, the Newfield Trojans were overlooked behind teams like the Bobcats and Elmira Notre Dame. The Trojans then took down the defending champion Elmira Notre Dame Crusaders in the playoffs last week, pulling off the upset and punching their ticket into the finals.
Now they have one more hurdle to overcome: a team that beat them by 27 points earlier this season - the Lansing Bobcats. Newfield is much improved since that 49-22 loss, and head coach Jeff Stine discussed what’s changed since then that’s turned the season around.
“Part of it is that the kids came together and just believed that they can do it,” Stine said. “This is a good team, a really good team. When they believe in that, magic happens. The Lansing loss - there are great things to learn from a loss. I think that helped us, then a tough game on the heels of that against Unadilla Valley. Those kinds of things helped us be better.”
Lansing is a perfect 7-0 heading into the championship game, looking to make that last step after coming up short against Elmira Notre Dame in the finals last year. Coach Brett Hotchkiss believes the team’s mentality has been a key to success.
“The biggest thing is the buy-in,” Hotchkiss said. “We have a unique collection of guys here who haven’t had a ton of time or experience playing with each other. … It was all having them find their role and identity within our program. They’ve become more of a close-knit group. … If everyone’s doing their eighth, it’s really going to make a difference, and they’ve really bought into that this season.”
In their first meeting, which came in just the second week of the season, a few mistakes by Newfield, including three turnovers and several big offensive penalties, led to the game being less competitive than it should have been. Senior captain and lineman Cian Howell discussed the lessons the Trojans took away from the loss.
“The main thing we learned from that game was that we have to execute better,” Howell said. “We had a lot of mistakes in that game that led to scores for Lansing. It was mostly fumbles within the 20 that they scored off of, so we just learned that we have to execute better.”
On the other side, Lansing’s big game in week two was anchored by quarterback Ben Vincent’s five touchdowns, one of which was a pass to powerful runningback Brad Lehr. The 27-point victory didn’t give them a big head, and they have plenty of respect for the Trojans.
“They’re a good team,” Vincent said. “We definitely can’t take them lightly. They’re one of those teams where if you sleep on them, they’ll get you. We can’t do that.”
Lehr added that the Trojans are a challenging opponent.
“Similar to us, they can attack on the ground and through the air,” Lehr said. “We’ve got to prepare for any kind of plays, trick plays as well. [They have] a lot of athletes.”
The Trojans defeated Elmira Notre Dame 44-34 in the Section IV semifinals, ending the season of the defending champions. But captain Kevin Jacobs II stated that there is no time to bask in the victory.
“It felt great, but at the end of the day, we have to stay humble and move on to next week, and it was more of moving on rather than a celebration,” Jacobs said. “We just have to get our heads right. Yeah, it felt really good, but we want to take it all the way rather than just focus on that. We want to go deeper than where we are right now.”
They’ve completely embraced the underdog role as well, expressed runningback and junior captain Arthur Hardison II.
“There’s a lot of people, and I think they definitely overlooked us coming into this season,” Hardison said. “It gives us a chip on our shoulder and motivates us. People doubt us, and we’re just going to prove them wrong.”
Lansing coach Brett Hotchkiss is not one of those overlooking Newfield.
“Newfield’s a tremendous group of athletes, and they play a great brand of football,” Hotchkiss said. “Some people may have been surprised by the outcome on Friday night, but it was not something I was necessarily surprised by. I knew Newfield had a very good chance going into that game. They’re definitely a tough matchup.”
Newfield coach Jeff Stine has a comparable amount of regard for the Bobcats heading into the championship.
“I don’t know if we have anything we can exploit. We just have to play well,” Stine said. “[Ben Vincent and Brad Lehr] are amazing. How do you stop that? We have to play well. Our defense is getting better and better. … They’re a very good football team. I have a lot of respect for them. We have to play a really good game to have a chance to win.”
For Lansing, achieving what they were unable to last year is incredibly important to the members of the undefeated squad.
“It would be a great opportunity for these guys,” Hotchkiss said. “To reach the pinnacle of the season and come up short last year was definitely a little heartbreaking. ... It would be a great achievement to beat a team like this in a game like this to go ahead and move this forward. To extend that another week and give these guys the opportunity to be teammates another week is something I think you value more than the victory itself.”
Considering both of these teams are in their second years as an eight-man squad, this championship is very meaningful. Expect a great game when the Bobcats and Trojans meet on Saturday.
They’ll be playing for a chance to extend their seasons one more week, as the winner of this contest will play the Section IX champion on Nov. 16 in Kingston, New York, to determine the eight-man football intersectional champion.
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