SYRACUSE, NY (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) — The Road to the JMA Wireless Dome for day-after-Thanksgiving state championship football continued for 16 Mohawk Valley teams when their names were called at Section III’s seeding meeting on Sunday, October 22. Of those teams, three earned top seeds, and several more will start their road toward a sectional championship at home. (All NYSSWA rankings are from the October 18 release.)

Both local Class AA teams made the tournament, though in very different ways. Rome Free Academy started out the season with five straight wins. However, the Black Knights hit a skid at the end of the season, losing two of their last three to Class A powerhouse Whitesboro and an 11-point loss to a Corcoran team that won three of their last four games. Led by 2,000-yard passer Evan Carlson-Stephenson, who also threw for 20 touchdowns against only four interceptions this season, the Black Knights come in as the seven seed. They will travel to Cicero-North Syracuse on Friday, October 28 to face a Northstars team whose only loss this year is to AA top seed CBA.

Utica Proctor’s season has been one of some adversity, as violence marred their 60-30 season-opening win over Binghamton and forced some of their games to be moved to a different venue or moved to a different time. That did not help the Raiders, as they would lose their next three games. A win at winless Fayetteville-Manlius helped coach Steve Strife’s team maintain their stability, but losses to the top two seeds in Class AA by a combined score of 87-20 shook things up again. The fifth-seeded Raiders will face Liverpool in the AA 5-4 matchup, whom Proctor lost to 36-6 in Week Three.

The only Central New York representative in Class A is top-seeded Whitesboro, but it’s been yet another dominant season for the Warriors. After a Week Zero loss to Section II’s Shaker, the Warriors have rolled through the rest of their schedule, outscoring their opponents 329-105. Led by Dartmouth commit Kyle Meier — who racked up a combined 2,680 yards and 37 touchdowns — their closest game this season was a 55-48 shootout win over Class AA Rome Free Academy, who also made the playoffs. The Warriors — ranked number nine in the state in Class A by the New York State Sportswriters’ Association (NYSSWA) — will start their road to another sectional crown at Chiz Frye Field when they host the Fulton Red Raiders, who managed to avoid a winless season last Saturday with a 41-28 win over Watertown.

Another team who rolled through their schedule this season is Class B top seed New Hartford. The Spartans outscored their opponents 358-76 en route to their perfect season and the eighth spot in the NYSSWA Class B rankings. Senior Cole Raux has been the catalyst for the Spartans, rumbling to a career-best 1,582 yards and 24 touchdowns. Raux threw one pass this season too, and even that went for a 66-yard touchdown in a win over Oneida. The Spartan defense has been rock-solid as well, not allowing more than 14 points in any game this season. The top-seeded Spartans will host the Westhill Warriors at Don Edick Field on Friday, who have won two of their last three games.

Two other local teams in Class B made it to the playoffs, but one, along with New Hartford, will be hosting a playoff game — the Central Valley Thunder. The Thunder have quietly cobbled together a surprising 6-2 season, their only losses coming to New Hartford and Syracuse ITC, and includes a win over Class A Gloversville. Running backs Logan Hewitt, Xander Kenniston, Thomas Jacquays and Landon LaFountain have fueled the Thunder this season, combining for 1,816 yards and 17 touchdowns en route to four straight wins heading into the playoffs. They will host the sixth-seeded Homer Trojans at Diss Field on Friday, looking to unseat the defending Section III champions.

While the Thunder and the Spartans will be staying home for their first-round matchups, the Camden Blue Devils will be traveling for their first game, as losses in three of their last four games dropped them to the seventh seed. The Blue Devils have been able to keep their last two games close, however, winning by 15 to Oneida and losing by 12 to Carthage. They will face second-seeded Indian River on Friday, who are looking to avenge their loss to Homer in last year’s sectional final.

Fourth-seeded Adirondack hovered around the top ten of NYSSWA’s Class C rankings for most of the first half of the season, thanks to five straight wins — two of those to Class B schools Camden and Syracuse ITC. Their only blemish — a 12-6 loss to second-seeded, seventh-ranked General Brown — dropped them out of the top ten to 11th. Two straight wins to Lowville and Holland Patent — both on the road — helped the Wildcats gain momentum heading into the playoffs. Six different Wildcat rushers — led by junior quarterback John Hennessey — have combined for 2,341 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, while Hennessey has thrown another three as the Wildcats earned the fourth seed and a home game. They will face the fifth-seeded Gaelic Knights of Bishop Ludden, who finished 4-4, but played the closest game the Wildcats have played this season, a 42-34 win for Adirondack in Week Two.

The Holland Patent Golden Knights managed to pick up the eighth seed with a 3-5 record and a balanced attack, led by rushers Nick Acevedo (283 yards) and Noah Rivera (330 yards). However, the Knights have lost three of their last four, their only bright spot in their last four weeks being a two-point win over 6-2 Sherburne Earlville, who is not eligible for the postseason. The Knights will travel to Cazenovia on Friday to take on the undefeated and top-seeded Lakers, who have outscored their opponents 191-77 this season.

There is one all-local playoff matchup in all the classes this season, and it is in Class D. The Mount Markham Mustangs have hit a bit of a slide going into the playoffs, losing three of their last four games after winning their first four. Those losses, however, have come against the top three seeds in their class, including top-seeded Sandy Creek. Their rushing attack has been one of the best in their class with six rushers grabbing the lion’s share of 1,877 yards and 28 touchdowns, led by freshman Jameson Young, who has racked up 453 yards and 7 touchdowns en route to their home sectional game on Friday night.

The Mustangs’ opponent took quite a different road to the sectional tournament. The Herkimer Magicians skidded to a 2-6 record, including a back-and-forth loss to Mount Markham in Week 5. Herkimer has allowed 50 or more points four times this season, including a 65-7 loss to Section II’s Warrensburg in Week Zero. Since the Week Five loss to the Mustangs, Herkimer has lost to Westmoreland and Beaver River by a combined 80-42, but will seek redemption for the loss and a bounce-back win, all on Friday night in West Winfield.

Seventh-seeded Westmoreland/Oriskany finished out their regular-season with a close 8-0 loss to Pulaski on Saturday, October 21. The Bulldogs lost three out of their last four games as well, getting outscored 94-13 in those losses. Dual threats Cameron Rautenstrauch and Dylan Williams have shouldered most of the load for the Bulldogs, racking up a combined 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. They will look to bounce back against 2022 sectional runner-up and second seed Beaver River, who scored 30 points in the second quarter en route to a 44-6 win in Week Four.

The biggest bounce-back in Class D came from third-seeded Dolgeville, who started the season 0-2 with losses to the teams in front of them: Sandy Creek by two and Beaver River by one. First year head coach Justin Daukontas has been able to rally the troops despite their slow start, and the Blue Devils have won their last five games by a combined 188-47. As always, their strength has been their rushing attack, led by junior Trevor Borst, who racked up five touchdowns in their win over Mount Markham last week. The Blue Devils will start the postseason with a rematch with the other Blue Devils in Class D: Pulaski, whom Dolgeville defeated 38-20 in Week Six. Saturday’s game will also be the last game to be played on the grass field at Bill Bynon Field, as the team will move to turf next season.

The Frankfort-Schuyler Maroon Knights, like New Hartford in Class B, barreled through their opponents en route to the eight-man division’s top seed and a number three state ranking. Led by junior quarterback Rocco Martino (1,519 total yards, 23 combined touchdowns), the Maroon Knights have outscored their opposition 292-74, their closest win being two points to West Canada Valley in Week Two. They even avenged last year’s sectional championship loss to Morrisville-Eaton in Week Six, dominating the Warriors in a 50-6 win in Morrisville. They will look to continue that domination on Friday, October 27, when they host Bishop Grimes at Lieutenant Ferraro Field. The Cobras won three of their first four before losing their last two to slide into the eighth seed.

Third-seeded West Canada Valley’s only loss was to top-seeded Frankfort-Schuyler, and only lost by two points. The rest of their games have not been that close, with the team scoring no less than 44 points in any of their six wins. Led by quarterback Sean Burdick (1,563 passing yards, 18 TDs) and receiver Cameron Ludwig (39 catches, 962 yards, 10 TD), West Canada Valley has outscored their opponents 348-74. They will meet a team that they are very familiar with in the 8-Man playoffs: the Thousand Island Vikings. The Vikings have scored 26 points each time they have traveled to Newport. However, in those games, West Canada Valley has scored 94 and 54 in those games as well.

The New York Mills Marauders had a tough start to their 2023 campaign, bookending a win against Section IV Unadilla Valley with blowout losses to West Canada Valley and Frankfort-Schuyler. The Marauders were able to bounce back the last three weeks of the season, led by an 871-yard, seven touchdown season by senior Dominick Moore and win all three games to finish third in the Eastern Division. They will travel to Weedsport on Friday to take on the Warriors, who have won four straight games, including a three-game stretch where they outscored their opponents 92-22.

Despite four straight wins and a NYSSWA ranking for the Sauquoit Valley Red Hawks to start the season, they couldn’t keep up their momentum, losing three straight to the three teams ahead of them in the Eastern Division standings. The Red Hawks are led by senior Brendan Lee, who racked up 755 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Unfortunately, Sauquoit Valley’s defense has hit a bit of a snag, giving up 62, 54 and 30 points in their last three games to fall to the seventh seed. They will head to second seeded Morrisville-Eaton on Friday, who were ranked fourth in the NYSSWA standings before their loss last Friday. The Warriors have put up 77, 72 and 59 points in three consecutive games, one of those coming against fourth-seeded Weedsport.