The Whitesboro Warriors ground out drive after drive against Rome Free Academy, scoring in every quarter in a 41-7 football victory at the Stadium Friday night.
A score with two minutes left kept the Black Knights from being shut out as they saw their record drop to 0-2.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said RFA head coach Jake DerCola after the game.
“They didn’t give up.” The man at the helm for his first year at RFA continued: “Plays were there to be made. We were a step too slow. Balls were a bit too high. Blocks had to get held a little longer.”
Whitesboro set the tone early, linking together seven running plays on the opening drive of the game capped by a 22-yard touchdown run by Lucas Casab. The extra point by Joe Panuccio made the score 7-0 3:17 into the contest.
RFA’s first drive ended when sophomore quarterback Riley Brawdy fumbled while scrambling. Whitesboro’s Michael Collins pounced on the ball, and the Warriors took over on their own 45.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Panuccio hit 6-foot-5 wide receiver Thomas Morreale for a 55-yard touchdown pass. Morreale got behind the defense then came back to the ball, spun out of a tackle and went the last few yards to the end zone for the score. Another extra point kick and it was 14-0.
On RFA’s second drive, junior quarterback Christopher Orton came in during the series and would play most of the snaps the rest of the game.
Whitesboro made it 21-0 with 4:37 left in the first half when Casab took a handoff and went up the middle from five yards out on the seventh play of a 66-yard drive.
A promising start to the second half for RFA stalled out after a fourth-and-2 conversion and a 17-yard pass to Cam Williams from Orton. The Knights punted and Whitesboro took over on its own seven. On the first play, a bad snap resulted in a six-yard loss and the ball on the one-yard line. On third-and-12, Jeff Cubino broke loose up the middle for 41 yards. Nick Sardina finished off the eight-play drive with a 24-yard run when he took an option pitch and cut back into the middle of the field. A missed extra point kept the score 27-0 with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
A turnover on downs by RFA on the next drive put Whitesboro on the Knights’ 29. A short pass, a 24-yard run by Casab and a one-yard run by Cubino up the middle into the end zone put more points on the board. With the extra point, the Warriors led 34-0 with 1:14 left in the third.
Whitesboro forced a punt, then three plays later backup quarterback Zach Britt, who had taken over for the night, went long to Morreale. The pass went through a defender’s hands and Morreale made the catch then rumbled past another defender and into the end zone for a 63-yard catch-and-run score with 10:26 left in the game. The extra point made it 41-0.
RFA capped the scoring for the night. The team drove 65 yards, starting with a 43-yard strike by Orton to senior receiver Anthony Cudhea. He later hit Cudhea for 17 more yards. Orton hit Cam Wiliams along the left side of the end zone from five yards out for the score.
The senior wide receiver kept a foot in bounds for the catch in his first game of the season. The extra point was good and Rome was on the board, trailing 41-7 with two minutes remaining. “We need to get over the hump,” said DerCola.
The RFA quarterback situation will be “a competition this week,” DerCola said.
Senior Isaac Whishart, who started the opener but was injured and barely practiced this week, was in the game for a handful of plays against Whitesboro. He ran twice for 4 yards. Brawdy started and was 8-for-14 passing for 77 yards. Orton was 10-for-18 passing with 115 yards and the touchdown.
DerCola said Orton “did pretty good, threw some good balls.” He said he made the switch to Orton because Brawdy was a little out of sync. “I want someone to step up and take the reins,” the coach said. Defensively, “we stopped them then a big play. Or they just had drives,” DerCola noted.
The team will await news on senior standout offensive and defensive lineman Brady Wood, who went down late in the third quarter with a right leg injury and was kept out of the lineup the rest of the game as a precaution.
“We still have to smooth it out,” said Whitesboro head coach Tom Schoen after the game. He said the team took too many “foolish penalties.”
Regardless, the offense used the run game to pound out yards and set up some big pass plays.
“That’s our style and we’re not going to change our style. And that lets us throw the ball. Having a Tom Morreale helps,” he admitted.
Schoen said the defense played better as the game went on. Overall, “I’m not unhappy but I’m not happy.”
RFA is now 0-2 overall and 0-1 in Class AA-2.
The team goes on the road for the first time this year when it takes on Cicero-North Syracuse in a league contest at 7 p.m. next Friday. The Northstars moved to 2-0 on Friday night with a 28-3 win over Liverpool.
Whitesboro improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the Class A South. The team travels to Jamesville-DeWitt for a league game at 2 p.m. next Saturday.