PENDLETON — Carlson by land, Carlson by air, Carlson by ground.
Starpoint was able to celebrate ‘Coach Al Cavagnaro’ night Friday on the right note, beating Grand Island by a score of 28-17. On a night where former athletic director Tom Sarkovics was also honored, a win clinched the No. 2 seed in the Class A-2 playoffs for the Spartans and a home postseason game.
This was looking a defensive battle early on, with the Vikings (2-4, 2-3) taking a 7-0 into half after Ben Moskala (11-16 passing, 145 yards, pass TD; 147 rushing yards, rush TD) took in a score on QB sneak.
That’s when the third quarter rush kicked in.
GI took a 10-0 lead after a Bubba Rustowicz field goal, which was followed up by Aidan Davis (49 rush yards, TD; 4-4 passing, 59 yards, TD; 4 catches, 54 yards; 6 tackles) connecting with Joe Carlson on a 50-yard TD bomb for the Spartans (4-2 A-2).
Carlson was far from done from there. He would make the Vikings pay for fumbling with a touchdown toss to Jake Dean. Moskala would answer again, finding Anthony Homa (4 catches, 124 yards, receiving TD) on a deep-ball score on a razzle-dazzle reverse pass.
After a few back-and-forth possessions with no scores, Carlson would add a rushing score to his total, before closing the game out with an INT that was nearly a house call. This would set up Davis for his game-sealing TD run, sending the Starpoint faithful into a frenzy.
If Carlson wasn’t on your shortlist of Connolly Cup finalists, this game should be tape No. 1 for that. He not only kicked all four PATs and had that final pick, he would score touchdowns through the air as a passer and receiver, on top of his rushing touchdown as well.
In total, the 2018 All-Western New York selection accounted for 266 yards (92 rushing, 115 passing, 59 receiving) in just about every facet possible to clinch a playoff berth.
“Well honestly I didn’t want to play in some Funke bowl,” Carlson said, stepping in for injured QB Carson Marcus under center in a wildcat offense.
“I wanted to go back and win in the playoffs, go back to the stadium. So I’m just gonna do everything I can, each and every game, to get there and get our goal. That was our goal at the beginning of the season. We’re gonna continue to work hard to get there.”
The defense was once again led by Jake Dean (10 tackles) and the unit had big moments, like a fourth-down goal line stand to close the first half and the two forced turnovers to close the game.
Cavagnaro saw the resiliency his team possesses, which will give him another opportunity to coach in front of the Starpoint fanbase.
“As Tim (Racey) said on radio, it’s such a pleasure to be here. This isn’t a job, this is a great pleasure to come out here,” Cavagnaro said after seeing his team battle back from back-to-back losses, injuries and a slow start to the game.
“ ... I think they believe in the coaches. The first half was tough, no doubt about it. We peeled the paper of in that room (at halftime), but you know what? They didn’t pout. They listened to us, they came out to our adjustments and you saw the difference in two halves.”
As far as the A-2 playoffs go, Coach Cav has the utmost confidence in his team.
“We can go as far as we want to go,” Cavagnaro said. “We get a home game here. Who knows where we are the next game.”
The Spartan fans will get to watch their legendary coach work at least one more home game, on a big stage like the Section VI postseason. Just the way it should be.
For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow him on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, catch Khari as a guest on‘Inside High School Sports’ at 10 a.m. this morning on WGR550.