By Justin Rodriguez
Section 9 Football Insider
Monroe-Woodbury opens its season on Saturday on hallowed New York State football grounds — the Carrier Dome in Syracuse — home of the state championships.
And if the bright lights of the airy “Dome” isn’t exciting enough, the Crusaders are facing a state powerhouse at 1 p.m., Aquinas Institute, in the 12-team, three-day Kickoff Classic.
“We’re going in as underdogs, everyone thinks we are going to lose,” Monroe-Woodbury wide receiver Jack Dembia said. “But I think we have a chance and this is a great opportunity for us. Everyone wants to play in the Dome against a great team like Aquinas.”
It’s rare that Monroe-Woodbury, a perennial Section 9 power, plays the role of underdog in any game. However, Aquinas, a Catholic school located in Rochester, has been one of the best Class AA schools in the state for five years running. The Little Irish beat Monroe-Woodbury 48-13 for the 2013 Class AA state championship and won the state title again two years later.
Aquinas finished 9-2 last season, losing to Lancaster 9-0 in the quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs. The Little Irish return 10 of 11 starters on offense, including Caron Robinson, who rushed for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
“I’m excited about the game,” Monroe-Woodbury linebacker Zack Vanier said. “It’s an opportunity to shock the world and show everyone what Monroe-Woodbury football is all about. I like a challenge and I think it will be cool to play at the Carrier Dome.”
Monroe-Woodbury coach Ryan Baldock said that Aquinas approached him about playing during the offseason. According to Baldock, Aquinas officials helped schedule it at the Carrier Dome.
“When Aquinas reached out, I was immediately excited,” Baldock said. “We get to see a real good opponent and the icing on the cake is that we play at the Carrier Dome. I think it will be a good experience and hopefully it pays off for us down the road. I know the perception is that we are the underdog, but I don’t feel like we are ever the underdog.”