NEW WINDSOR — It was the perfect end to a perfect regular season, with Cornwall quarterback Aidan Semo taking a knee after his defense came up big yet again.
Despite a season that seemingly can’t be derailed, this wasn’t how some expected this year to end. A freshman quarterback, an undersized defense, a midseason coaching change — all together, it doesn’t resemble the makings of a perfect campaign.
And yet this is Cornwall, where the past seven Class A section trophies reside. And after Friday’s 24-14 win over Minisink Valley, the Dragons appear well on their way to adding another to the shelves, despite difficulties along the way.
“I guarantee not many people would think we'd be 7-0 right now,” Semo said.
Entering this week, the Dragons (7-0, 3-0 Division I) needed one win to clinch the division, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and the accompanying bye week. But the Warriors (5-2, 1-2) posed as worthy a threat as any team in the section, with a chance to claim the division with a win of their own. Minisink Valley had the size to do it, led by two-way superstar Anton Juncaj — who made his presence felt on almost every play defensively and skied for a second-half touchdown catch to cut Cornwall’s lead to 17-14.
But it wasn't enough to overcome the Dragons’ speed, which carried an offense that hasn’t been stopped all year. That was on full display on the second play of the second half, when a deep ball to Alex Suarez from the Dragons' own territory gave the team a 10-point cushion in what ended up being the pivotal play of Friday’s game.
"I think that really kind of picked us up and brought us back to feeling like ourselves again," said interim coach Eric Holzapple, who took over last week after Mike Connolly's sudden resignation. "When you’re able to hit a big play, sometimes that's all it takes to jump-start you back up.”
Even Holzapple admits this team wasn’t sure if it would survive the early part of its schedule unscathed, with heavyweight matchups against Pine Bush, Marlboro, Warwick and Monroe-Woodbury to deal with. This game wouldn’t be easy, either, facing one of the most physically imposing teams in the section.
But no team is more imposing than Cornwall, which can beat you in any number of ways. Semo — who threw for seven touchdowns in a game this season — tossed two more and used his legs to extend plays all game, while running back Amin Woods served as the battering ram and eventual clincher with a late 6-yard touchdown to secure the final score.
And, of course, speed kills, as it did on that long Suarez score that rallied the Cornwall contingent and energized what had been a lackluster offensive output.
“I knew I could beat him outside, so I just kept running,” Suarez said. “I just kept running and running until I hit the end zone.”
And so the Dragons keep running through arguably the toughest schedule in the section, with a well-earned bye week upcoming before a home game to kick off yet another Class A postseason run. Holzapple says this year’s crop of Class A teams is as tough as he can remember – but so is Cornwall, the team that seemingly can’t be stopped in pursuit of perfection.
“We just plan on keep doing what we're doing and not changing anything,” Suarez said, “because it's been working.”