Prep football: Weber shocks Syracuse 27-26 with run game, defense to upend Region 1 title race
SYRACUSE — Nakosi Swain ran for 10 yards on Weber High’s first play of the game Friday night at Syracuse.
Nobody knew it was a sign of things to come. But Swain and the Warriors running backs ran all over, consistently gaining a few, several and a dozen yards at a time, no matter what defense the Titans had on the field.
And Weber’s defense, which had previously allowed 34.2 points per game, produced key stops at key times.
On paper, the Warriors’ shocking, 27-26 upset win over the Region 1-favorite Titans was that of a 2-4 team that had struggled, beating a 5-1 team that had pretty much done everything well.
In reality, Weber (3-4, 1-1 Region 1) had potential all season and has taken steps toward fulfilling that potential in the last four weeks. Friday saw everything come together at once and the region-title race took a hard turn in three directions.
“We’ve got some of the best skill players in the state and, I mean, losing’s hard because we know how good we are, so if we win like this it just feels so good. It’s perfect,” Swain said.
Weber lost its first three games of the year as a host of off-the-field issues including player eligibility, recruiting allegations and a coach dismissal played out in office boardrooms.
Since the start of September, the Warriors are 3-1. Their lone loss in that time was at Region 1 title contender Davis, where head coach Jayson Anderson said they got behind early, by a lot, and had to pass their way back.
That’s why Weber’s running success was so crucial against Syracuse, and it started with a statement 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Swain rushed six times for 51 yards on the first drive and also took a screen pass 19 yards. He reached over the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown run to cap the drive.
“We know that they have a really good defense, but we have to have faith in our O-linemen too because we have some of the best running backs in the region. Just keep running down their throats,” Swain said.
Syracuse (5-2, 1-1) responded with a 9-yard screen touchdown pass from Jake Hopkins to DJ Mayes, but the extra point from Rhett Thompson was wide left.
Tatum Martin intercepted Weber quarterback Crew Cacciacarne on the next drive, then the Titans went down the field and scored. On fourth-and-8 at the Weber 22, Hopkins lofted the ball in the corner of the end zone for an impressive TD catch by Mayes.
Hopkins and Mayes connected again on the next drive on the same back-corner fade pass, this time on the right side and this time from 10 yards out for a 20-7 lead. It looked like Syracuse was about to run away.
Cacciacarne led a last-minute scoring drive for Weber and lofted a TD pass to Salesi Moa to get the Warriors within 20-14 at halftime.
Mayes returned the second-half kickoff to the 45-yard line for Syracuse only for a calamitous series to ensue. A bad snap on second down and then a bad snap on the punt ended with Titans punter Tanner Perrone falling on the ball at the Syracuse 1-yard line.
Swain walked into the end zone on the next play to give Weber a 21-20 lead.
Twice in the second half, the Titans went into the red zone and twice went away with field goals.
The first time, the Warriors forced consecutive incompletions to bring out Thompson for a 20-yard field goal.
The second time, Syracuse drove all the way from its own 1-yard line to get third-and-goal at the Weber 2, then the Warriors’ Ian Elmore made a 6-yard tackle for loss on Ethan Larkin. Thompson made a 25-yard field goal for a 26-21 Titans’ lead.
“I think as a team, that was our best game all put together, top to bottom. We beat Wasatch, beat a good Granger team, and (Syracuse is) tough as nails,” Anderson said. “Every week we know when we play these guys, we know it’s gonna be a battle.”
Weber drove 84 yards for the go-ahead score, starting with a 25-yard Elmore catch and run. The Warriors also kept running — it hadn’t been stopped all night — with Swain and Dyson Parker to eventually get in a goal-to-go situation.
“(The offensive line plays) good every week, but they definitely took this challenge this week and made it perfect. It’s the best they’ve ever blocked and they did a very good job,” Swain said.
At the Syracuse 3-yard line, Cacciarne play-faked, rolled to his right and found Bauer McAuley for a 3-yard, go-ahead TD.
The Titans went three-and-out on their next, and final, drive and punted with 5:39 left. Weber took over and saw out the game.
The Warriors’ run game did a few things: sustain their drives, keep Syracuse’s offense off the field and shorten the game. Syracuse only had the ball four times in the second half.
“I honestly felt like we were the cream of the crop and I think that’s kind of where the kids were thinking, and we were humbled tonight on a few things,” Syracuse head coach Mike Knight said. “But I think everything’s still, with a smaller region, everything’s still in front of us.”
On the final third down of the game, Cacciacarne snapped the ball with 44 seconds left, ran backward and slid down with 38 seconds left, ending the game as Weber had started it: running.
Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at email@example.com, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.