FONDA — Three games into his freshman football season at Fonda-Fultonville, Jonathan Cranker became a starter.
He’s been one ever since, and everything he’s done in Fonda-Fultonville maroon and gold has been in the pursuit of a single goal.
“Ever since then,” Cranker said Wednesday, “I’ve wanted to win that sectional championship.”
Now, it’s Cranker’s last chance, and as the Braves head into the Section II Class C postseason Friday night with a quarterfinal home game against Hoosick Falls/Tamarac, he knows it’s also his best chance.
“This is the last chance,” he said. “So, we’ve got to do it.”
It was a remarkable regular season for Fonda-Fultonville, which opened its season with a 13-12 win over a Section III Class B opponent in Central Valley, then proceeded to absolutely decimate each of its next seven opponents.
In those last seven games, the Braves have outscored their opposition a staggering 383-40. That included a stretch of three consecutive shutouts against Coxsackie-Athens, Ichabod Crane and Section IV’s Newark Valley.
Only three teams all season — Central Valley Academy, Johnstown and Broadalbin-Perth — have scored double digits against Fonda-Fultonville’s defense this season, while the Braves’ offense has scored at least 47 points in seven straight games.
All in all, a pretty good rookie season in the top job for head coach Mike Mancini.
“Our focus,” Mancini said, “is on one game at a time, the present. Not really worried about what happened in the past.”
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The roster is chock full of players who contributed to last year’s team that battled through COVID-19 quarantines, forfeits and last-minute schedule changes to get to the Section II Class C Super Bowl, where the Braves ultimately fell to eventual state runner-up Schuylerville.
This year, if Fonda-Fultonville wants to get back to championship weekend, it’ll take a win over a Hoosick Falls/Tamarac team that the Braves split with last year — Fonda-Fultonville lost in the regular season, then won in the playoffs — before a rematch with Schuylerville.
“We played both those guys last year,” senior defensive back and running back Owen Hicks said. “We lost to both of them. Now, we want to beat them both.”
Though it’s a team firmly focused on the present and near-future, there are plenty of lessons this year’s team is taking from last year’s run.
The first is what it’s like to play in close, pressure-packed games — something the 2022 Braves haven’t experienced since Labor Day weekend.
“We had a lot of close games last year,” Hicks said. “We brought a lot of guys back. A lot of guys are experienced, and we’re prepared for that.”
The second is the value of senior quarterback and defensive back Jackson Cusack. It was Cusack’s elevation to starting quarterback late last season that unlocked the full potential of the Fonda-Fultonville offense, and with a full offseason in the role, he’s blossomed this season into one of the top dual-threat signal callers in the area.
Oh, and he’s continued to be a lockdown defender in the secondary and a consistent threat to take a punt return to the house.
“He’s doing a lot of the same things he did last year before he moved to quarterback,” Mancini said. “The difference this year is that he put in a ton of time on the offensive side of the ball as a quarterback, which he didn’t do last year when we just kind of threw him in there. … We just didn’t have that element of our offense last year that we do now, and that’s a testament to him and how hard he’s worked.”
“We’ve got different people for different roles,” Cusack said. “I’ve got to fill some more of them, which is fine. We’re all a team.”
It’s a team that’s focused on turning the bitter taste of last year’s Super Bowl loss into something a little happier this November.
“There’s a crazy, crazy amount [of motivation],” Cranker said. “We’ve got a bad taste in our mouth. We lost to [Hoosick Falls/Tamarac] on their homecoming last year, and then obviously lost to Schuylerville. We’re coming after it hard this year.”
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