ORCHARD PARK - The Randolph Cardinals did not look like the No. 1 Class D team in New York state at the start of Friday night's Section 6 Class D championship game.
After sloppy miscues ended each of their first three possessions, anyone at Ralph Wilson Stadium watching the Cardinals play for the first time would have been right to question how they were able to steamroll through their first nine opponents this season.
By the end of the game, however, any such questions were answered.
OBSERVER?Photo by Scott Reagle
Chautauqua Lake’s Jonah Tanner (32) applies pressure to Randolph quarterback Mitchell Maycock during Friday’s Section 6 Class D title game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
With Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake quarterback Kyle Mayer sidelined due to a second-quarter injury, Randolph's defense shut down the Thunder Dragons over the final 34 minutes and its offense rattled off 28 unanswered points en route to a 35-12 victory and the school's ninth sectional title and sixth since 2003.
''No words can express how good I feel right now,'' said running back Chris Doubek, who led Randolph with 154 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. ''It's great to beat a rival and it's great to win the sectional title again and keep the run going.''
The Cardinals' win - their 20th straight - vaults them into next Friday's Far West Regionals at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester, where they will meet the Section 5 champion.
''We go one week at a time now,'' Randolph coach Brent Brown said. ''Anything after this is gravy.''
Randolph (10-0) has the look of a team that could defend its state title, although it didn't appear that way during the opening possessions on Friday.
The Cardinals' first possession ended on a bad snap on a punt attempt, their third possession ended on a muffed punt and their fourth ended when the Thunder Dragons (7-2) recovered an errant pitch.
Despite the sloppiness, Brown wasn't too worried.
''You kind of expect it,'' said the first-year head coach. ''You're in the sectional championship, it's not going to be easy. They're not going to lay down. They played us tough.''
After all three miscues, Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake took over in Cardinals' territory and twice it converted them into points, first on a 7-yard touchdown run by Gram Nelson and then on an 11-yard scoring pass from Mayer to Jonah Tanner.
That pass play gave the Thunder Dragons a 12-7 lead - Randolph had scored on a 1-yard pass from Mitchell Maycock to Devyn Nelsen on its second possession - but it also proved costly.
Mayer was hit by Cody Oldro and Lucas Brown as he released the ball and his legs got bent underneath him awkwardly. The senior limped to the sideline and then fell to the ground before being taken to the locker room.
Mayer did not return and the Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake offense apparently left with him. After amassing almost 90 yards in 14 minutes with him in the game, the Thunder Dragons had minus-20 yards and four turnovers in 34 minutes with him out of the game.
''That was incredible,'' Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake coach Curt Fischer said. ''I mean, it changed our whole game plan. The wheels came off the bus in a hurry. That was crucial, but they are a great team. I'm not going to blame the loss on that. Randolph is a great team.''
AJ Hulton took over at quarterback and was intercepted by Nick Hettenbaugh on his first possession. Randolph took its ensuing possession 76 yards, with Doubek scoring on a 23-yard run that gave the Cardinals a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Micah Kehoe, who was a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points, tacked on the point-after for a 14-12 lead with 2:38 remaining in the first half.
Things got worse in a hurry for the Thunder Dragons. On the second play of their next drive, they had a snap go awry and Mason Bosley recovered to give the Cardinals the ball at the 14. Three plays later, Maycock hit Brown on a 5-yard touchdown pass and Randolph took a 21-12 lead into halftime.
''We gave up that touchdown, it was brutal. That killed us,'' Fischer said. ''Without Kyle our timing was off. We looked like a comedy of errors.''
The Thunder Dragons fumbled the ball away two more times in the second half. The Cardinals, meanwhile, added a third-quarter touchdown run of 2 yards by Nelsen and a fourth-quarter touchdown pass of 55 yards from Maycock to Hettenbaugh.
''Once they got the momentum, that took over,'' Fischer said. ''When they get the momentum they'll roll right over you.''
Maycock completed 5 of 8 passes for 99 yards and three touchdowns and added 19 rushing yards on six carries. Brown had 28 yards on six carries as the Cardinals racked up 203 yards on 52 carries.
The Thunder Dragons were limited to 20 yards on 31 carries and 71 total yards. Ryan Miller was their leading rusher with eight yards on eight attempts.
''Our defense tightened up,'' Brown said. ''We tightened up and played better, especially in the second half.''
Now it's on to next week, and Doubek already has it planned.
''Practice hard, watch film, fix our mistakes,'' the senior running back said. ''And go beat the next team.''