ATHOL SPRINGS, N.Y. (WIVB) — Frigid gusts off Lake Erie wobbled the goalposts at Polian Family Field, before eventually blowing a state championship out of St. Francis’ grasp.

The Red Raiders dominated the first half and were on their way to the program’s first state Catholic football championship, having shut out the No. 1-ranked team in New York in taking a three-touchdown lead late into the third quarter.

In a chilling flurry, however, St. Anthony’s from Long Island stormed back for a 27-20 victory, stunning the St. Francis faithful.

Disbelief turned to dejection while the Red Raiders accepted the runner-up plaque in the midst of an opponent’s championship celebration on their home field.

Huddled up for the last time this season, St. Francis coach Jerry Smith reminded his team what it accomplished in returning to the state title game and advancing three-quarters of the way toward victory, an improvement from last seasons’ final result.

“I told them I’m extremely proud of them,” Smith said. “They fought to the very end. We played as hard as we could.”

Lack of execution doomed St. Francis in the fourth quarter, Smith said, while adding, “we’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to do a lot of things better to be state champion.”

Playing for the first time in 18 days since its Monsignor Martin championship game win against Canisius, and having to clear six feet of snow off the field in order to practice, St. Francis played like a champion in constructing a 20-0 lead before halftime.

Connolly Cup finalist Ricardo Kidd rushed for a 25-yard touchdown, and Terrence Pendergrass made it 12-0 in the first quarter with a 12-yard scoring run after the Red Raiders blocked a punt. A 40-yard run from quarterback Steve Otremba Jr. led to Kidd’s 9-yard TD and Otremba’s 2-point scramble in the second quarter.

“We’d never played as good as we did today,” Smith said. “Quite honestly, we were dominating.”

St. Francis (6-4), ranked 12th in the state in Class AA, struggled to build on its strong first half. Fortune would favor the top-ranked Friars (11-1) in the fourth, as the visitors recovered an onside kick and intercepted a pass deep in Red Raiders territory to set up quick touchdowns.

“Weather was definitely a factor, no doubt about it,” said Smith, acknowledging that the Red Raiders’ familiarity with blustering conditions benefitted them in the first half.

In the end, when it mattered most, St. Anthony’s had the wind at its back.

***

Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.