OSWEGO — The Oswego Pop Warner Jr. Peewee football team has battled through a slew of obstacles this season.
From losing tough games to almost not being able to play on its home field, the team has used those challenges as motivation.
Back by an organization that also includes the cheerleading squad, Oswego’s determination has helped it plow through the postseason and into the Jr. Peewee Championship game, set for Sunday at 1 p.m. against the Cicero Falcons.
The past couple of seasons have been a struggle for Oswego. The team went 0-7 in 2017 and 1-6 in 2018. This season, they compiled a 3-3-1 record and now have a chance to grab the championship trophy.
“It’s awesome,” Oswego head coach Kory McTague said. “We’ve had the same group of kids for the last three years. They’ve put themselves in a place to compete for the championship.”
A squad of around 20 players, Oswego defeated Phoenix 24-6 in the semifinals to make it to the championship game. Oswego lost to Phoenix 28-0 earlier in the season, so the recent win shows how much the team has progressed.
The Buccaneers lost to Cicero during the regular season by a score of 12-0. Now, the Bucs hope to turn the tables on Cicero like they did on Phoenix.
“It’s going to be similar what we’re dealing with for Cicero,” he said. “They run a very similar offense. It’s all about who shows up on Sunday.”
McTague mentioned the success this season is mainly due to the players being on the same page with each other and the coaches.
“It was really all about the kids buying into what we want to do. We run the same offense as the modified and varsity teams. A lot of kids don’t like it because it’s run-heavy and you don’t pass the ball as much,” he said.
“Once the kids buy into what we want to accomplish, they understand what the offense is about and they believe in each other. It’s good to see them come together like a brotherhood.”
On top of putting some rough seasons behind them, the Bucs had to figure out how to pay an overtime custodian fee since their home games were played at Oswego Middle School on Sundays.
Oswego was forced to play a game in Palermo, along with a “home” matchup on Cicero’s field. However, with the help of Mayor Billy Barlow covering the cost of the fee, Oswego was able to play the rest of its home games at the middle school.
Having their backs against the wall has “ignited the success of the team,” McTague said.
“With the up-and-down roller coaster earlier in the season, the kids have managed to look past the distractions outside of the field,” Oswego Pop Warner president Colton Dryden said. “They’ve pushed themselves to a competitive level that we haven’t seen the past couple of years. We’re extremely proud of them.”
Football in Oswego has been in a downward spiral the past few years. The high school varsity football team was forced to cancel its season this year because the district said it had an insufficient number of players to safely compete.
The Pop Warner program is attempting to build something special and lay a foundation for football in the community while bringing the sport back to prominence.
“I try to tell the kids that they are the future (of Oswego football). In a couple of years they’ll be at the modified level and are the frontrunners for the varsity program,” McTague said.
“I also told them ‘a lot of people are supporting you.’ I just want them to do their best.”
Dryden mentioned that Oswego’s youth football numbers are on the rise, while the players’ count for many programs in central New York is falling.
“Having a successful season now is only going to show players that aren’t even in the program that it’s time to step in,” he said.
When McTague played Pop Warner football, he had the luxury of winning a title with the 2008 team in the Peewee championship game. He’s had a taste of what it’s like to win it all, and hopes that’ll pass to his players Sunday and beyond.
“I still remember to this day winning the championship back in 2008,” McTague said. “I hope that’s something that happens to these kids. Hopefully people will see, ‘Oh they won a championship. Oswego football isn’t a joke.’ We have great talent at all levels of play.”
No matter what has been thrown at Oswego Pop Warner football this season, they have managed to dodge it. Dryden said that could have a lasting impact for Bucs football down the road.
“Seeing our kids battle through the adversity and using that as fuel for their competitiveness and will to win is what has really shown their success,” he said. “They are the future of football.”