By SCOTT KINDBERG
Special to the OBSERVER
SYRACUSE - When Cody Oldro dozed off in the Randolph Cardinals' Syracuse-area hotel on Thanksgiving night, all he dreamt about was the Carrier Dome and what would take place on the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's biggest stage Friday afternoon.
"All I saw in my sleep,'' said the junior linebacker/guard, " ... was where I would be, what would happen and where I would go.''
Let's just say dreams do come true.
Behind two touchdowns from senior Jordan Dowiasz and a strong defensive effort - led by Oldro, the game's most valuable player - the top-ranked Cardinals dispatched of Section 1's Tuckahoe, 28-7, to claim their third state Class D championship in eight seasons and send their beloved coach, Pat Slater, into retirement with NYSPHSAA football's biggest prize.
"That's the best way to go (out),'' said Slater, who winds up his 34-year career with 213 victories. "Every time we won, every week the last four weeks, I realized it's getting closer, it's getting closer.
''This is the best. The kids are the best. They played hard."
That's been the theme for the teenagers from Cattaraugus County for the last 10 weeks. For after losing two of their first three games, the Cardinals were looking at a daunting task, even for one of the state's best programs. But the young team started putting it together in a Week Three loss at Maple Grove; Slater and his staff made some personnel changes; and Randolph proceeded to rip off 10 straight wins, capped by yesterday's convincing victory over Tuckahoe (8-3-1).
"We talked in the locker room that we had to come out and play our game,'' said Dowiasz, who finished with 145 yards on 18 carries, including touchdown runs of 43 and 2 yards, and intercepted a pass. "Just hit them hard, run hard, get on our blocks, be disciplined and come out and play a great game."
In addition to Dowiasz's two scores, junior Chris Doubek, who was named the most valuable offensive back, added 101 yards on 12 carries and scored the game's first touchdown on a 39-yard run; and junior Jared Pitchford tallied a fourth-quarter TD on a 6-yard burst. Junior Micah Kehoe booted two extra points and junior quarterback Mitchell Maycock had a two-point conversion run.
That was more than enough offense as the Cardinals, who outgained the Tigers, 352-195, turned in another stellar defensive effort.
In fact, other than senior Nick Reisman's 4-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter - set up by a Randolph turnover - the Tigers never found the end zone again. Their best chance came later in the same period when they had a first down at the Cardinals' 9.
But two critical penalties - a hold and an illegal block - and a nice pass breakup in the corner of the end zone by senior Kyle Brown forced Tuckahoe to eventually turn the ball over on downs.
The Cardinals, behind first-quarter TD runs of 39 and 43 yards by Doubek and Dowiasz respectively, led 14-7 at intermission.
It wouldn't get any closer.
Randolph's second possession of the second half broke the game open.
With a drive-start at their own 10, the Cardinals took nearly 7 minutes to march 90 yards for the touchdown on Dowiasz 2-yard run on fourth down. The possession included 16 plays - all but one on the ground - and it resulted in a 21-7 lead with 11:57 remaining in the fourth quarter. Pitchford recorded the game's final score with 6:22 left and Dowiasz clinched the win when he intercepted a pass in the final moments.
Slater, who began coaching the Cardinals in 1979, joins former Jamestown High School coach Wally Huckno as the only Section 6 coach to lead three teams to state titles.
''When you get to the very end,'' Slater said, ''you start putting the similarities together and you see things where you say, 'I saw this back in 2009, I saw this back in 2005,' and I saw things coming together.''
It may not have happened had Slater and his staff not made those changes after a 27-14 loss at Maple Grove.
''We thought we had to get our act together, had to come out and start playing harder, practicing harder and being more physical,'' Dowiasz said.
The formula worked.
Slater wasn't shocked by the slow start.
''We thought if we could win one and get some experience with all these young kids, we could do OK,'' he said. ''In the third game in the second half, we played really good. From that point on, we just said, 'OK, every game now is a playoff game from here on out, and the kids played like that all the way to the end.''
Fittingly, as the Cardinals waited for the postgame ceremony to start, an emotional Slater shook hands and hugged his players.
''Seeing my coach cry,'' Dowiasz said, ''brought tears to my eyes, too.''
But the players sure gave Slater quite the parting gift.
''The first thing we talked about,'' Dowiasz said, ''was how we could send Coach home with a ring.''
Noted Oldro: ''They're going to remember him for the three championships.''
NOTES: Randolph junior Nick Hettenbaugh was the most valuable defensive back after finishing with 14 tackles and three assists. ... Oldro had 11 tackles and four assists, junior Lucas Brown added five tackles and nine assists and senior Alex Miinte had seven tackles and four assists. ... Sophomore Michael Bowers was selected the most valuable offensive lineman and senior Nathan Beaver was the recipient of the sportsmanship award. ... Senior Shyheim Nixon led Tuckahoe with 84 yards rushing on 11 carries, while Reisman added 79 yards on 22 trips. ... The Cardinals' defense limited the Tigers to 85 yards in the second half. ... Junior tackle Michael Arborn (eight tackles, one assist) was the most valuable defensive lineman for Tuckahoe, while teammate John Paulino received the sportsmanship award.