By Ted Waddell
KINGSTON Just like Mom, your teacher is always right, and school’s never out.
John Wilhelm started to learn the gridiron game in 1985, which was the first of his three seasons of playing varsity football for the Ellenville Blue Devils under the tutelage of Coach Tony Borriello.
A few years later, Wilhelm found himself at the helm of the Liberty Indians, and in the role of competing against his former coach and football mentor.
On Saturday afternoon, Borriello and Wilhelm found themselves on opposite sides of the playing field at Dietz Stadium in Kingston as No. 1 seed Ellenville (9-1) and No. 3 seed Liberty (5-5) met for the Section IX Class C Football Championship.
Ellenville reached the title game by defeating Millbrook, 30-7, in a semifinal game on Oct. 30 at Dietz. In the other semifinal game that day, which was played at Faller Field in Middletown, Liberty defeated Sullivan West, 17-13.
In a sense, both coaches held no surprises for each other, and they pretty much knew what the other was thinking, and how to counter their moves on the artificial turf.
But the game came down to muscle, determination and a couple of lucky bounces as Ellenville shut out Liberty, 27-0.
For the Blue Devils, who will face the Section I champion in a state Class C regional game this Friday, Nov. 13 at Dietz Stadium, it was a show of gridiron will and strength. Ellenville defeated a Liberty team which had improved dramatically since kicking off the season with an 0-3 record.
With 3:47 remaining in the first quarter, Ellenville’s Jose Aldarondo scored on a 6-yard rush. But the Indians stopped the Blue Devils’ two-point conversion run in its tracks.
A lucky bounce on a punt later in the game gave the Blue Devils possession deep in Indians’ territory.
But just when Ellenville seemed poised to score, Liberty’s Jon Ramirez recovered a fumble at the goal line. The Indians’ drive stalled after a couple of incomplete passes.
Liberty was forced to punt, but the boot by Brandon Tompkins was blocked, giving the Blue Devils a first-and-10 at the Indians’ 5.
On the first snap, Andrew Platt scored with a 4-yard run at 5:33 to go in the second quarter. A two-point conversion run by Doug Lewis around the left side failed, but Ellenville was up 12-0.
With about 20 seconds remaining until halftime, Liberty failed to score on a fourth down at the 10-yard line. It was a case where a touchdown for the Indians could have easily changed the momentum of the game.
The score remained the same until the 1:59 mark of the third quarter when Ellenville QB Robert Borriello, who is the coach’s son, threw an 11-yard TD pass to Thomas Savaglio. Platt followed up with a two-point conversion run to give the Blue Devils a 20-0 lead.
On the first play of the final stanza, Ellenville’s Brennin Haugen stunned the Indians as he picked off a Marshon Williams pass and returned it 42 yards to pay dirt. The PAT kick was good and Ellenville was up 27-0.
Ellenville’s Platt was named the game’s Most Valuable Offensive Player. Liberty’s Brandon Tompkins, who made 14 tackles and forced a fumble, was tabbed the Most Valuable Defensive Player.
“I have a lot of respect for Tony [Borriello],” Wilhelm said. “We came to win, and we didn’t, but I’m real proud of our kids.
“They’re a very good football team, that’s why they won our division,” Wilhelm continued. “We came in confident, but they were a better team than us today.”
Coach Borriello, relaxing a bit after guiding the Blue Devils to their second consecutive Class C title, said he put his best people up front in order to create a mismatch on the line, but Liberty countered by doing the same thing.
“I have to give it to our front line,” he said.
The teacher’s take on the performance of a team coached by his former player and student?
“They’ve gotten so much better, they’ve matured,” Borriello said of the Indians. “We preached to the kids this is not the same team we faced earlier in the season, they’re a lot more confident.”
In that regular season game on Oct. 3 at Liberty Central School, Ellenville prevailed, 36-6.
In Saturday’s title tilt, Doug Lewis led the Blue Devils’ ground game with 72 yards on 11 carries, Jose Aldarondo ran seven times for 69 yards and Platt rushed 16 times for 49 yards.
Robert Borriello completed 2 of 3 passes for 30 yards.
For Liberty, Williams ran 19 times for 53 yards, Jovaughen Clark had four carries for 19 yards, Akeem Granum rushed four times for 16 yards and Eddie Soto gained 12 yards on three carries.
In addition to Tompkins, the Indians’ defense was paced by Williams (six tackles), Ramirez (six tackles and a fumble recovery), Mike McLean (six tackles), Kris Merklin (six tackles) and Jordan Merklin (fumble recovery).