By Sean Lynch
Section 9 Football Insider Staff
SYRACUSE — Tears of joy came down the face of Cornwall senior Steve Gazzillo as he took off his sweat-filled helmet after a 21-14 victory over West Seneca East in the Class A state championship in the Carrier Dome.
The amount of time he spent with his teammates in the weight room, practice, and during games all came to mind as he thought about his three-year career with the Green Dragons.
Not much overwhelms the senior captain, but thinking about all those things at once brought tears to his eyes.
“I went out there and gave it everything I had,” Gazzillo said. “I wanted this win for my teammates and our town. I’ve played with most of these guys on defense since I was five years-old, and our town really deserved this win. Look behind us — every one of those kids and adults alike traveled nearly four hours to watch us play. I can’t put it into words what it means winning it all in front of them.”
He was the anchor to a dominant Cornwall defense for three years; leading the team in tackles every year he was on the team. Despite being one of the team’s best defensive players ever, Gazzillo will always be remembered by one thing:
The game-winning touchdown that brought Cornwall its first ever Class A championship.
With the game tied at 14 apiece, Cornwall (12-0) had the ball at the West Seneca East inch-line with one minute left.
Cornwall coach Eric Holzapple called for Gazzillo — the team’s secret weapon for goal-line scores.
He got the snap from freshman quarterback Aidan Semo and Gazzillo put his head down and ran forward. The defensive line knew what type of play was coming and it came down to will power. Semo pushed him with every ounce of strength he had and Gazzillo kept his legs moving like a car stuck in snow.
Gazzillo’s legs never stopped moving until the ball crossed the goal-line. He admitted it was the toughest run of his life.
“It was the hardest six inches I’ve ever ran for in my entire life,” he said.
“The whole season, we haven’t been denied,” Semo said. “We weren’t going to be denied right here on the biggest stage in the biggest game of our lives so far. I knew what I needed to do to get him into the end zone.”
The 47 minutes leading up to Gazzillo’s touchdown were hard-fought.
West Seneca East’s do-it-all superstar Shaun Dolac led the Spartans in rushing (182) and receiving yards (65) while playing quarterback nearly every offensive possesion. Defensively, he led the team with seven tackles and punted the ball seven times on special teams.
Dolac kept the Dragons defenders on their toes throughout the entire game.
“That kid is something else,” said Holzapple. “He’s a bruiser. He’s a tough kid and had a great game tonight.”
After the Green Dragons’ first touchdown on their second drive of the first quarter, they went 36:42 without another score.
Through the second and third quarter, they got into the red-zone three times and came away with zero points — two missed field goals and a punt.
“We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot early on,” said Holzapple. “I’m just so proud of the way our kids responded today.”
West Seneca East may have had a star running back, but Cornwall had a star running back of their own — Amin Woods.
He finished the game with 205 yards on 34 carries. Twenty-seven of those yards came on a run which gave Cornwall the ball in West Seneca East territory, and led to the eventual game-winning touchdown.
“I just fed off the team’s energy. They told me I could do it, and I believed in it,” said Woods. “All the credit to my success goes to our offensive line. They created holes against a defensive line that was bigger, but they proved that sometimes heart means more than size in the trenches.”
Woods’ stats in the postseason have been historic. He has rushed for 1,079 yards and eight touchdowns in five games.
He finishes this season as Cornwall’s all-time leading rusher with 1,796 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
Section 9 is now 3-11 all-time in state championship games, with the win, Cornwall joined Monroe-Woodbury (2005) and Rondout Valley (2000) as the only other winners.
Todays win for Cornwall meant more than a record of local teams who’ve come to the Carrier Dome before them.
It meant playing as a team — and for some players — it was the last time they would ever play together after 12 years.
It meant proving the doubters wrong. Those who said they’d lose after the sudden resignation of former head coach Mike Connolly.
It meant playing for a town that supported them through thick and thin. The community who travelled close and far to watch them play.
“This doesn’t come down to one stretch of a season,” said Eric Holzapple. This comes down to everybody in Cornwall, past and present, that have been a part of this program to help build it to get to here. There are a lot of people that came before me that helped get this program to where it is right now. This is not a one-man show. This is everybody in that locker room and everybody that’s ever been in that locker room. This is a group effort, a community effort, and I couldn’t be more proud of our kids.”
With medals across their neck and smiles across their faces, everyone on the Cornwall football team will never forget the feeling after the final whistle blew. A feeling of happiness, joy and accomplishment.