MANSFIELD - The Cayuga Wildcats know all about adversity.
The Wildcats also know how to deal with that adversity. So it should have been no surprise Saturday afternoon when the Wildcats rallied from a 10-0 first quarter deficit to defeat Albany 38-24 for the Class A, Division II state championship.
"We have come through a lot of adversity this year," senior Tramon Shead said. "None of us gave up on this team."
Cayuga has had to learn how to deal with adversity starting in preseason with the season-ending injury to middle linebacker Joel Jenkins. Injuries followed the Wildcats throughout the season with wide receiver Caleb Summerville going down for the season in a district game and then losing linebacker Jamal Gibson in the playoffs.
But each time the Wildcats suffered an injury, they had someone different step up and fill the void.
"This team has had to overcome a lot with injuries," Cayuga head coach Tommy Allison said. "But we have always risen to those challenges."
It was another potential injury that started Saturday's adversity for the Wildcats when Traylon Shead pulled a hamstring before the start of the game and was questionable if he would be able to play in the state championship game.
Traylon Shead did play most of the game on offense and defense and rushed for 144 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Billy Duncan also played with an injury as the coaches were not sure how much he could give the team. Duncan had a hip injury two weeks ago and played sparingly last week. Duncan played most of the game on both sides of the ball for Cayuga Saturday and scored on a touchdown catch in the second quarter.
"Billy is not 100 percent but he really stepped up today and played a great game," Allison said.
Once the game started Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats found themselves in a quick 10-0 hole. Albany drove the ball down the field on the first possession, taking advantage of a personal foul penalty and a pair of big third and fourth down conversions to take a 7-0 lead.
Then Albany stole the kickoff when a pooch kick got caught in the wind and bounced right to the Lions. Albany took the ball inside the Cayuga 10-yard line before the Wildcats made a stop forcing a 25-yard field goal.
Along with taking a 10-0 lead, Albany kept the ball out of Cayuga's hands for the first 11 and a half minutes of the game.
"That was big for them to be able to hold onto the football like that," Allison said. "But we knew if we could take that first punch and still be standing, we would be OK."
Cayuga showed it was still standing when Malcome Kennedy started the second quarter by breaking free and down the sideline for a 68-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 10-7.
"When Malcome got us right back into the game, I knew we would be all right," Allison said.
Cayuga made one more mistake in the second quarter when a miss handled handoff resulted in a fumble on its own 30-yard line and Albany turned it into another touchdown for a 17-7 lead.
"You have to give Albany credit, they came out in the first quarter and we were not ready to play," Traylon Shead said. "But in the second quarter, we got back to business."
Cayuga responded by putting together two touchdown drives in the final six minutes of the first half to take a three-point halftime lead, which was a far cry from where the Wildcats were at one quarter before.
"We knew this game was ours and we were not going to quit," senior Malcome Kennedy said. "Everyone picked each other up."