They are still young men, in the primes of their lives, all in their mid to late 20s.
They’ve started careers, marriages and families. Some have left the village where they grew up. Some never left.
As the years go by, adult life and its responsibilities put time and distance and memories of high school become more distant.
But for the 21 men who played on the 2004 Weedsport High School football team, a decade hasn’t dimmed their memories — nor the village’s — of a season that culminated in the district’s only state championship.
“It’s flown by, but at the same time it’s hard to believe that 10 years has passed,” Warriors tackle Bob Bradtke said. “College flew by, the years fly by.”
“There aren’t enough words to describe it, every game, it still brings chills,” said Lorrie Bradtke, Bob’s mother.
It all started, as many title seasons do, with the disappointment of the previous fall. In 2003, the Warriors lost in the Section III, Class C title game to General Brown. The next season, Weedsport was in Class D. From the start, in the heat and humidity of August training camp, the goal was to get back to the sectional championship game and win it, and maybe just go a little further.
“Losing in sectionals the year before, I felt we could do some great things going into next year,” said defensive back/wide receiver John Mietz. “It took lot of hard work and dedication going into the summer.”
“For us going into the season, we didn’t know what to expect,” said quarterback Mike Coolbaugh. “We felt we had a pretty good core group of guys. But the really cool thing is it was a huge group effort — whether it was training camp all the way to the end of the season. There was truly something special about that team.”
For coach Cal Mosher’s Warriors, the season’s first month brought easy wins over Sandy Creek, Watertown IHC, New York Mills and Alexandria Bay as the Bach brothers backfield, Brad and Brandon, ran over opponents. The strong start was an appetizer for the fifth game, a grudge match against Onondaga, the Warriors’ biggest rival of the new millennium. The Tigers had lost the state’s best player, running back Michael Hart, who was tearing up the Big 10 for Michigan, and Weedsport was looking forward to taking a shot at ending Onondaga’s 43-game winning streak.
Brad Bach scored a pair of touchdowns, and the Weedsport defense held Onondaga to a touchdown in a 15-7 win that signaled there was a new leader at the top of Section III.
“My favorite part of the season was that game,” Mietz said. “After that game I felt we could really go the distance.”
From there the Warriors won their next three games by a margin of 157-30, the last of those a 55-8 rout of Frankfort-Schuyler in the first round of the sectional playoffs.
The semifinals were a test as Weedsport topped Little Falls 28-22. Brad Bach rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns and Coolbaugh recovered a fumble near the Warriors end zone.
Again, Weedsport would face nemesis Onondaga for the title. Earlier, the Warriors stopped the Tigers’ win streak, this time they ended their reign as three-time defending Section III champs in a 21-0 masterpiece. Brad Bach ran for 255 yards and Jeff Williams, Coolbaugh and Brandon Bach each scored as Weedsport took its first Section III title since 2001.
In the state quarterfinals, Weedsport blew out Section IV’s Hancock 48-13. After that, the Warriors’ opponents became more challenging and the games turned into moments where the team showed its toughness and unbelievable ability to make the clutch play.
In the semifinals against Section V’s Oakfield-Alabama, Weedsport led 21-16 with five minutes left. Facing a fourth-and-12 at the O-A 34, Mosher went for it to try to smother any hopes the Hornets had of a late comeback.
Coolbaugh found tight end Adam Sweet for the completion and the first down but Sweet didn’t stop there. He leaped into the end zone with a Hornet on his back for the game-clinching score that sent the Warriors into the state championship game.
“We had a group of guys that were very resilient,” said Brad Bach, who now lives in the Buffalo area. “Every week we beat a team that was bigger than us.”
As it had since the start of the season, the Weedsport community rallied around its team. But with the Warriors playing for the state championship, it went to a higher level and the village turned green as posters and signs popped up in store windows. The team’s weekly spaghetti dinners became a spot where players and their parents could have fun and bond.
“It was unbelievable. You don’t really see that environment. Weedsport has a special kind of home field,” Coolbaugh said, “It reminds me of the movie ‘Friday Night Lights’ everyone eats, sleeps and breathes football. That’s really the feeling we got when we went to the Dome to play. Just thinking about it gives me goose bumps. Everyone lived that and was completely behind us.”
The last team standing between Weedsport and the state title was Tuckahoe from Section I, just north of New York City. The Tigers would be playing in the Carrier Dome for the first time while the Warriors were playing there for the third time that season. Weedsport residents came out in force to the Dome to cheer on its team.
“There couldn’t have been anybody left in Weedsport,” Lorrie Bradtke said, “because we were all there. The whole camaraderie of the village, it was amazing. I remember every detail if it was yesterday.”
The first quarter showed both teams weren’t going to hold anything back as the Warriors struck first, Coolbaugh throwing a 41-yard scoring pass to Sweet. Tuckahoe countered on a 20-yard touchdown pass to tie it. Weedsport ended the quarter’s scoring on Brad Bach’s 19-yard run to make it 14-7. The Tigers scored the second quarter’s only touchdown on a 16-play, 83-yard drive that consumed more than seven minutes as the game was tied at 14 at intermission.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, but Tuckahoe was again driving and took the lead, 21-14 with 9:59 left in the game.
Brad Bach fielded the kickoff at the 17, faked a reverse and raced up the left side of the turf to the end zone to electrify the Weedsport fans and get the Warriors within an extra point kick of tying the game at 21.
But Mosher had other thoughts as he stunned the Carrier Dome crowd by going for two. He knew his team, which most of the players were playing offense and defense were starting to ware down, and if the Warriors were going to win, they had to take the lead right then and there.
“We weren’t running the ball on them, and we hardly had the ball,” said Mosher after the game. “I just thought, ‘Let’s try to win the game right here.’ If we can get ahead of them, maybe we could hold them off.”
In one play, the entire season was at stake.
Coolbaugh faked a handoff to Brad Bach and took off toward the right corner of the end zone. He was able to dive past the line and the Warriors led 22-21 with 9:46 remaining, or what seemed like an eternity.
The game’s physicality was starting to take its toll on Weedsport’s defense as Tuckahoe drove methodically, as the clock ticked down. The Tigers reached the Warriors’ 20 with 5:11 left when Coolbaugh intercepted a pass near the end zone to preserve the lead. The Warriors couldn’t run out the clock and had to punt.
Making the stand even tougher was the loss of defensive end Jim Scarbrough who suffered a broken leg with less than three minutes left. He was in an ambulance when the game ended.
“It was breathtaking, on the edge of your seat,” Lorrie Bradtke said about watching the final moments. “We wondered how we were going to weather the storm.”
One last time, the Warriors would have to hold on. Tuckahoe again drove and faced a fourth-and-four at the Weedsport 28. The season, the title came down to one play. The Tigers tried a sweep, the Warriors’ Bob Bradtke and defensive end Kerry Green snuffed it out for a loss and the celebration could finally begin in the Carrier Dome and the village off Exit 40 of the New York State Thruway.
“Coming back on the bus, the fire trucks were out and everybody standing (outside on the street) as we came back to the school,” Bob Bradtke said. “It was pretty awesome.”
“Everyone was standing out there cheering us on,” said Coolbaugh, who now lives in Connecticut. “It was a once in a lifetime thing.”
Like any team, nothing stays the same, because change is inevitable. A few months later, Mosher stepped down as coach and seven seniors graduated. In 2005, the Warriors knocked off the top seed in the first round of the sectional playoffs but the reign ended in the semifinals in a loss to Watertown IHC.
Just like that, the majority of the 2004 state champions were done as high school football players, leaving a legacy that still resonates in Weedsport.
“At the time I don’t think a lot us realized how special it was,” Brandon Bach said. “It was a lot of fun, a lifetime experience. Everybody on that team, we have a bond.”
The players come together for weddings, and once in a while, they’ll watch some of the state title game on DVD, reminiscing about their unforgettable day.
“I still try to keep in touch with the guys on the team,” said Mietz, who still lives in Weedsport. “Some have moved out of state, but a lot of us we grew up together. We remain friends.”
This past season, some of the 2004 Warriors gathered at their home field to dedicate a new football scoreboard.
“Thanks to the community and the support they gave us was incredible and having their help with the scoreboard was beneficial,” Mietz said.
More years will slip by, the players will continue to age and move past their high school years. For the 21 Warriors, the events of Nov. 27, 2004 will be a day they can look back upon and tell their grandkids about the time they came together as a team and were the best small-town football team in New York.
“The camaraderie and the brotherhood we all had, everyone was so very close,” Coolbaugh said. “It was truly special to be a part of.”