By SCOTT TYLER
PALESTINE — MANSFIELD — The Cayuga Wildcats looked to be writing the same script as last year’s state championship game.
Early mistakes and big plays from the opposition put the Wildcats down for the second straight year in the Class A, Division II state championship game.
But this year, the Wildcats changed the ending.
Cayuga overcame some early adversity to score with on every possession but one in a 38-24 win over Albany to capture the state championship.
“I can’t even cry, I am so happy,” senior Melvin Shead said. “We were not going to let this game be taken away from us.”
For the second straight year, there were lots of tears on the Cayuga sideline, but this time, it was tears of joy. The state title comes a year after Cayuga lost to Stratford in the state championship game.
“I can’t say enough about what these kids have gone through the last year,” Cayuga head coach Tommy Allison said. “This is a real proud moment for our school and our football team.”
Malcome Kennedy finished a sensational season as the Cayuga quarterback with a game-high 241 rushing yards and accounted for four touchdowns — two rushing and two passing.
“Malcome has been doing this all year for us,” Allison said. “We knew it would not be different once we were playing for the state title.”
Traylon Shead, who hurt himself before the game, fought through the pain both on offense and defense. He rushed for 144 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“Traylon showed a lot of heart today because he was hurting,” Allison said. “But he still came out and led us to the victory.”
Last year, Cayuga turned the ball over on its first two possessions and found itself in the hole early against Stratford.
This year, the adversity started even before kickoff when Traylon Shead, the AP All-State Class A Offensive Player of the Year, pulled a hamstring in warmups and was a question mark if he would be able to play in the game.
“I was not going to miss my final game,” the Cayuga running back said. “I knew without a doubt, I was still going to play.”
But the injury did not matter early on because Cayuga could not get its hands on the ball. Albany converted on a third and 26, third and 28 and fourth and 11 to march down the field, finishing off with an Elijah Hudson 1-yard touchdown run to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
Then Albany’s pooch kick got caught in the wind and the Lions recovered the kickoff. Albany converted on another long down, 3 and 28, to move into Cayuga territory. The Lions finally settled with a 25-yard field goal by Zed Hawkins to take a 10-0 lead with 13 seconds left and the Wildcats not running an offensive play.
“We knew if we could take the first punch and still be standing we would be all right,” Allison said. “We definitely took a big first punch.”
But Cayuga kept standing when quarterback Malcome Kennedy broke free for a 68-yard run to cut the lead to 10-7.
Later in the second quarter, another Cayuga mistake, a fumble on its own 31-yard line led to another Hudson touchdown run, this time for 8 yards as the Lions took a 17-7 lead.
But the rest of the half belonged to Cayuga. Traylon Shead, who played most of the game with the hurt hamstring, broke off a 50-yard run deep into Albany territory.
Two plays later, Kennedy flipped a pass into the flats to Billy Duncan, who made a move to get past one defender and then broke another tackle and jumped over a third defender to score the 19-yard touchdown and cut the lead to 17-14.
“I was going to do anything I could on offense and defense to help us win today,” Duncan said. “We had a group of leaders that were not going to let us give up when we got down.”
After the defense made a three-and-out stop, the Wildcats again moved the ball down the field with Traylon Shead and Malcome Kennedy trading off carries. On second and 10, the Wildcats went with the screen as Kennedy floated a pass over the heads of an aggressive defense. Traylon Shead made the catch, made use of his speed to get around one defender and got a pair of blocks down field to get into the end zone with a 21-yard touchdown to give Cayuga a 20-17 lead.
“We knew the defense was going to bring pressure and Coach Allison made a great call,” Traylon Shead said. “When I got the ball, I saw two defenders coming my way, but then out of no where the receivers came up to make the blocks.”
But unlike last year’s game when Cayuga struggled in the second half against Stratford, it was a different story Saturday afternoon.
With Traylon Shead on the sideline getting stretched out, Kennedy helped move the Wildcats down the field and broke through the defense for a 22-yard touchdown to give Cayuga 26-17.
“Every time he touches the ball, Malcome is going to do something special,” Traylon Shead said.
Albany stayed in the game when converting on another big down as Leif Johnston connected with Jason Brothers on a 30-yard touchdown on fourth and 10. The score cut the lead to 26-24 with three minutes to play in the third quarter.
But after that touchdown, it was all about the Wildcat offensive line and running game. Cayuga put together nearly a six-minute drive, all on the ground with Traylon Shead barreling in for a 1-yard touchdown to take a 32-24 lead with 9:36 left to play.
The Cayuga defense then got a critical three and out and Albany punted with 7:34 left, hoping its defense could make a stop.
The Lions did not see the ball again until 46 seconds left in the game. Traylon Shead and Kennedy picked up five first downs while running the clock and moving the ball down the field.
Behind the big offensive line, Traylon Shead scored his 146th career touchdown on a 1-yard run and the Wildcats led 38-24.
“Our offensive line has been under rated all season but they have been our unsung heroes,” Allison said. “Those give guys have been the backbone of the team and the last six games they have been the reason for our success.”
In desperation mode, the Lions could not gain a yard in four plays and the Wildcats celebrated its first ever football state championship.
“I just can’t believe it,” senior Tramon Shead said. “We thank God for everything he has done for us.
“We had to come through so much adversity but we have such big hearts.”
Scott Tyler may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com
Cayuga (14-1) 0 20 6 12 38
Albany (15-1) 10 7 7 0 24
ALBANY — Elijah Hudson 1 run (Zed Hawkins kick)
ALBANY — Hawkins 25 field goal
CAYGUA — Malcome Kennedy 68 run (Melvin Shead kick)
ALBANY — Hudson 8 run (Hawkins kick)
CAYUGA — Billy Duncan 19 pass from Kennedy (Shead kick)
CAYUGA — Traylon Shead 21 pass from Kennedy (kick fail)
CAYUGA — Kennedy 22 run (kick fail)
ALBANY — Jason Brothers 30 pass from Lief Johnston (Hawkins kick)
CAYUGA — T. Shead 1 run (kick fail)
CAYUGA — T. Shead 1 run (run fail)
First Downs 22 13
Rushes-Yards 46-399 40-191
Passing Yards 50 62
Total Yards 449 253
Comp-Att-Int 3-4-0 5-12-0
Punts-Avg 0 2-44.3
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 3-0
Penalties-Yards 7-61 4-40
Rushing — Cayuga: Kennedy 25-241; T. Shead, 24-144; Duncan, 1-8; Chance Caldwell, 1-6. Albany: Hudson 29-187; Aaron Faith, 3-5; Johnston 8-(-1).
Passing — Cayuga: Kennedy, 3-4-0-50. Albany: Johnston, 5-12-0-60.
Receiving — Cayuga: Duncan 2-29; T. Shead, 1-21. Albany: Brothers, 3-50; Jeremy Corbin, 1-5; Hudson, 1-(-3).