Walton's Trevor Spencer pulls Onondaga's J.J. Rodriguez down during Friday's Class D state quarterfinal at East Syracuse-Minoa. Defense has been a major reason for the Warriors rebounding from a 3-3 start. They face Caledonia-Mumford in a state semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday.

WALTON _ Three-and-three?

It would be dramatically understated to say Walton football programs are unaccustomed to such mediocrity midway through the season.

So 35th-year coach Jim Hoover had a sitdown with the boys following a 20-18 loss to rival Delhi in Week 6.

"Coach basically told us straight up _ if we don't win this game, we're not making the playoffs and the season is over, basically," senior Dan Bowker said of a Week 7 game against Oxford. "We told our guys we had to step it up and we did."

And in a big way.

The Warriors thumped their next five opponents by an aggregate score of 170-39.

"I don't know if there's any special thing that turned it around," said Hoover, Section Four's all-time winningest coach and sixth overall in New York state at 281-68-1. "We were playing pretty good football. ... The kids got confidence in themselves. I don't think we did anything different. We just started to play a little better football and they saw what they could do. When you can get confidence in yourself, you get better and better and better."

Down went Oxford, 28-7 _ a victory that secured a Class D playoff spot for the Warriors. Seton Catholic Central fell, 64-26, and then Tioga, 16-6, in a Section Four Class D semifinal.

That set up a rematch with Delhi with a sectional title at stake and it was no contest.

The Warriors put a 42-0 hurting on the Bulldogs and followed it up with a 20-0 victory over Onondaga this past Friday in a state quarterfinal.

Now, Walton (8-3) sits two wins away from its third state title in school history and first since 2007.

It meets Section Five champion Caledonia-Mumford (10-1) in a Class D semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday at Marina Auto Stadium in Rochester. The winner advances to the state final at noon Nov. 26 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

Terms such as heart, emotion, family and tradition have been used to describe Walton's turnaround. All seem to apply.

"We actually became more of a team," senior Isaac Wacha said. "We came as less of individuals and more as a team. We really stepped up.

"We lost a couple of games and that really opened our eyes," he continued. "After that, we just got better."

The losses Wacha refers to came in back-to-back weeks.

First, they traveled to perennial Section Four powerhouse Chenango Forks and seemingly trailed shortly after exiting the bus. The Section Four Class C champion Blue Devils led, 26-0, one play into the second quarter, but then Walton played them fairly evenly over the final three quarters in a 32-0 loss.

Another slow start against Delhi led to a second straight loss as a fourth-quarter rally wound up two points short.

"We played Chenango Forks and just got killed," Bowker said. "I think everyone was intimidated by them. Then we played Delhi and I don't think anybody wanted to play that game. We were all scared."

If those games showed an intimidated or scared Walton, recent games have shown the complete opposite.

"We came together," senior Devon Constable said. "Football is a team thing. We're family. Our defense is a family and we stop everything. Our offense is a family and we get in the end zone. That's how we are."

Constable personifies Walton's team-first attitude.

Two weeks ago during gym class, Constable was doing shuttle runs for the state physical. He lost his balance and went down, breaking the scaphoid bone in his left wrist.

If you count a cast and a cover to protect it as throwing dirt on the injury and getting back out there, that's just what Constable did. The young man hasn't missed a down.

"Anyone on the team would do it," Constable said of playing with the injury.

As for playing defense, that's been more difficult.

"It's actually pretty hard," he said. "It's hard to wrap. You slide off pretty easily."

Still, Constable's helped a defense that has allowed six points over three postseason games.

Rest assured, the Warriors will need that defense Friday against Cal-Mum.

"We work extra hard with our defense," said senior Christian Howe, who leads the Warriors with 1,146 rushing yards on 178 carries. "We try and make it easy and simple. ... I think we're on a mission to win states. To prove to others and ourselves we can do it."

P.J. Harmer can be reached at pharmer@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 229.

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