- Section 5 Class C champion Le Roy knew exactly what it was getting
into with Section 6 champion Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake Saturday afternoon
in the Class C Far West Regional final as the Thunder Dragons featured
a dynamic running back in Ryan Miller and a defense that had surrendered
just 37 points all season. And unfortunately for the Oatkan Knights,
they were unable to do anything to counteract either of those aspects
at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium and needless to say this wasn't the
way either head coach Brian Moran or this talented group of seniors
expected to go out.
Miller, the game MVP, rushed for 208 yards and four touchdowns, while
the Maple Grove defense used an impressive outing to shut out a talented
Le Roy offense 32-0.
"We had five days of really hard practice and we just came in really
focused" said Miller.
The Thunder Dragons set the tone on the very first play of the game
when Jonah Tanner returned the opening kickoff 85 yards to the Le Roy
2-yard line to set up a short Miller TD run and the Maple Grove running
game and stifling defense did the rest.
Le Roy averaged more than 400 yards per game during the regular season
but was held to just 101 on Saturday as the Thunder Dragons consistently
pressured Oatkan Knights quarterback Mike McMullen and never allowed
the normally dominating Le Roy running game to get going.
Miller needed just 23 carries as he eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for
the season and Maple Grove rushed for 369 yards as a team on the day
on just 46 carries. The Thunder Dragons didn't complete a single pass
but they never needed to as they finished with 17 first downs to just
seven for the Oatkan Knights.
"Mike Hart was very special but I thought this kid played extremely
well" said Moran of Miller in comparison to the great Onondaga
running back, who went on to be the career rushing leader at the University
of Michigan and then played three seasons in the NFL with the Indianapolis
Colts. "I thought he ran the ball really well today and I thought
overall their team speed was outstanding. As I said to my kids a second
ago, that is one of the best Class C teams that I've seen in 26 years."
"We have a strong offensive line" added Miller. "They
may not look the biggest but they're in the weight room all offseason.
They have a lot of power behind them, they make holes and I just bust
Mitch Sandberg added 66 yards rushing and a touchdown and quarterback
A.J. Hulton added 47 yards on the ground; meanwhile, the Maple Grove
defense held Le Roy to just 29 yards rushing on 21 carries with leading
rusher Nick Egeling netting just 21 yards on 6 totes.
McMullen was never able to find any sort of a rhythm as he finished
just 10-of-27 for 72 yards and game-breaking wide receiver Ryan McQuillen
was held without a catch and had just one rush for zero yards.
"All year long we have seen defensive players that couldn't cover
him in that situation" said Moran. "If you watched them over
the top, I thought they did a great job. You don't realize that they
doubled him all day. They pressed him on the front and then they rolled
over on the top."
Yet despite the apparent domination, the Oatkan Knights still had the
game well within reach into the third quarter.
After Tanner's long kick return to start the game and Miller's short
score, the Thunder Dragons were up 6-0 just 22 seconds into the contest
and had previously undefeated Le Roy stunned like it hadn't been all
The Oatkan Knights moved the ball on their first possession of the game
but the drive stalled when a fake-punt pass on a fourth-and-10 from
Jon Pierce was incomplete and Le Roy turned the ball over at the Maple
Grove 37. Unbelievably, that was the deepest Le Roy would drive into
Maple Grove territory all afternoon.
The Oatkan Knights were able to force a punt on Maple Grove's next possession
and forced a fumble on the Thunder Dragons' third drive of the game
but the offense was unable to take advantage.
The Maple Grove offense then began to heat up midway through the second
quarter when it embarked on a 10-play, 52-yard drive that took almost
five minutes off of the clock and capped it with a 1-yard Miller run
to take a 12-0 lead with just under five minutes to play in the half.
The Oatkan Knights would get to midfield on their next drive but were
again forced to punt and would go into the half losing for the first
time this season. Miller had 112 yards on the ground in the opening
half while Le Roy managed just five first downs.
"The defense is just amazing" said Miller. "Those guys,
they're animals. They all attack the ball at the same time. It's an
amazing sight, honestly, I love watching them."
And unfortunately for Le Roy, things would not get any better from there.
The Oatkan Knights managed a first down on their next possession but
were forced to punt and the next Thunder Dragons drive was all Miller.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior back had a 10-yard carry and another
for 24 before he took a handoff up the middle and bounced out of a pack
of Le Roy tacklers and down the right side for a 46-yard touchdown run
to make it 18-0 after the run attempt failed with 8:37 left in the third
Le Roy would go three-and-out on its next two possessions and Maple
Grove would then put the game away.
In a drive that spanned the end of the third quarter and into the fourth,
the Thunder Dragons would drive 50 yards on just five plays and a Hulton
39-yard keeper would set up a Miller 1-yard scamper early in the fourth
quarter that put them up an insurmountable 25-0.
Shockingly, the Oatkan Knights would manage just one first down in the
second half and just 35 yards of total offense after the break; the
usually explosive Le Roy offense could only muster up 95 total yards
all game against a Maple Grove defense that has surrendered just seven
points in the entire 2014 postseason.
"To be honest, we couldn't match up in our preparation with their
speed on the corners and their outside linebackers and that's a credit
to them" said Moran.
Sandberg would add a 43-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter
to put a cap on the dominating performance from the Thunder Dragons.
For Moran, he ends his illustrious career with 203 victories, which
is currently good for third on the all-time Section 5 list.
"I talk about it all the time, with wins and losses and sectional
titles but the thing I'll miss the most is the kids" said an emotional
Moran. "They used to tell you that the only thing in life that
is guaranteed is death and I am getting pretty close to the age, I am
55, I hope I have a few years left. But time is changing and you get
to the point where you have to step back and it's to that point."
Nick Egeling had 43 yards receiving on the day but Le Roy would finish
just 4-of-13 on third down conversions, while Maple Grove was 5-of-8
in such situations and scored touchdowns all three times it reached
the red zone.
Le Roy ends its successful season 10-1. The previous week the Oatkan
Knights had captured the program's 15th sectional title, the most of
any Section 5 school.
Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake (11-0) will play Chenango Forks of Section
4 (Binghamton area) this Saturday at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester in
the state semifinals.