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SARATOGA SPRINGS — In a game with very little offense, the Syracuse Titans defeated the Westlake Thunder 23-6 to stay undefeated on the season.
The Titans defense was tough all night long and held Westlake's offense scoreless all game; the only Thunder touchdown came on a pick-six score in the second half on a 100-yard return to make it a 4-point game at the halftime break.
But the Titans put some distance on the Thunder in the second half to pull away for their third consecutive victory of the season.
"It was a hard-fought win," Syracuse head coach Mike Knight said. "I thought the kids played tough. We had some adversity, quite a few turnovers, but the kids responded well. That's a physical team over there and they got after us. But I thought the kids were really tough as far as finishing."
The night started out rough for Westlake on their first drive of the game when a bad snap resulted in a turnover on their 32-yard line. On the ensuing play, Syracuse running back Jake Metcalfe exploded up the left side for a 20-yard gain to the Thunder 12-yard line. But thanks to a lockdown defense by the Westlake's secondary, the Titans settled for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 8:15 left in the first quarter.
Westlake seemed destined to respond on the next posession when Thunder quarterback Garrison Higgins found wide receiver Mason Morgan for a 60-yard pickup down the sideline to the Syracuse 20-yard line. But due to several Westlake penalties, the Thunder were forced to punt after failing to convert on third and 26.
The Titans built on their lead on a 65-yard touchdown drive that included multiple notable gains through the air and on the ground. Syracuse attacked on short passing plays and capped off the drive with a quick pass from Jake Hopkins to Tyson Stapley, who dragged his defender into the end zone for 6 points and a 10-0 lead.
Both offenses struggled in the second quarter and each turned the ball while also failing to convert a first down.
Syracuse appeared to regain its offensive momentum and got to Westlake's 4-yard line, but Thunder defensive back Cooper Cowan stepped into a would-be Titans passing lane in the end zone and proceeded to take it back 100 yards for the first and only Westlake touchdown of the night. After missing the PAT, the Thunder trailed 10-6 going into the half.
While it was much of the same for the Thunder through the second half, Syracuse owned the line of scrimmage and controlled the game on both sides of the ball. As the offensive line created holes and plenty of time for the Hopkins to find his receivers, the defensive line was constantly in the Thunder backfield and made it impossible for their offense to generate any momentum.
Knight said the offensive line could've been a little better but the defensive line made all the difference in the win.
"Our D-line got after them all night long, especially in that second half when they really wanted to throw the ball," he said. "We had a couple kids who were getting in there every single play."
Following a few three-and-outs drives by both squads, Hopkins threw for his second touchdown of the night when he found Braxton Stark in stride on a wide open play for a 44-yard score.
The offenses traded the ball a few more times before Hopkins struck again on a 47-yard toss to Chandler Christensen for a touchdown. The Thunder had a breakdown in coverage as the defense looked gassed and disoriented.
By the fourth quarter, the Titans simply ran out the clock as Westlake's offense struggled to move the ball.
Syracuse remains perfect on the season and will host Salem Hills in their final non-region game Friday at 7 p.m. MT. Westlake drops to 2-1 and will face Herriman Friday.