ITHACA — Shenendehowa football coach Brian Clawson said the title won by his 7-on-7 team at the New York State Championships was an added bonus.
What had Clawson really excited was the upgrade in play that his Plainsmen displayed on July 14 while winning all of their games at his alma mater, Ithaca College.
"It was our last week of 7-on-7, and we wanted to improve our passing game and improve our pass defense," Clawson said. "We did. We got better. Our main focus in Ithaca wasn't to go unbeaten, but to train and get better."
Shenendehowa went 8-0 to secure the 15-team large-school division title in Ithaca. The weekend before in Connecticut, Shenendehowa went 5-4-1 and finished in the top eight among 27 teams at the Grip It & Rip It Passing Championship.
"We got in a groove," Clawson said. "We went to Connecticut [July 6-7], and the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday after that we had our passing academy. All that practice led up to it."
Shenendehowa went 4-0 in pool play and 4-0 again in the single-elimination playoffs, culminating in a 42-21 victory over Cicero-North Syracuse. Shenendehowa's most difficult playoff game came in the quarterfinals, when Josh Szwarcberg snared a pass from Brendan Belott on the last play in a 20-14 win over Canisius.
In its other two playoff games, the Plainsmen topped North Rockland and Warwick by identical 42-14 scores.
"It was a good way to finish off our 7-on-7 work heading into our 11-on-11 season," Clawson said of the tournament put on by the New York State High School Football Coaches Association.
The veteran coach lauded Belott, a rising senior, for his play. Clawson was particularly pleased with his poise when Shenendehowa rallied from a late 28-21 deficit to beat West Genesee 35-28 in a pool contest.
"He was on fire the whole tournament," Clawson said of the young man who led Shenendehowa's varsity to a seven wins and a sectional semifinal berth in 2017. "He made great reads. He was finding every open receiver."
In June, Shenendehowa finished second to Holy Trinity in a 7-on-7 tournament at RPI, and reached the semifinals in another 7-on-7 event at West Point.