By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
BROADALBIN -- As the final seconds ticked away from Saturday night's 51-7 loss to the Schalmont Sabres, Broadalbin-Perth Patriots quarterback Gabe Mendez could not keep it together.
The 44-point loss, coupled with his anemic individual performance, was just too much for the junior quarterback, who could do nothing but slump his shoulders as he gave one final look to the scoreboard.
"I was crying my eyes out," says Mendez. "I was bawling."
In his first season as the Patriots' starter, Mendez sparkled in leading B-P to an undefeated start through its first three games. The junior threw for five touchdowns against two interceptions, while rushing for two more scores, piling up yardage totals with both his right arm and his legs.
Heading into Saturday night's game for a first-place showdown in the Section II Class B West Division, Mendez was sky-high.
Then, the rain-soaked pummeling at the hands of the Sabres happened, as Mendez could seemingly do nothing right. B-P failed to score an offensive touchdown in the contest, as the team's lone score came off of a Schalmont fumble that Pierre LaPort recovered and took into the end zone.
"I mean, I was 2-for-6 passing for three yards," says Mendez. "That's awful."
The tears came for Mendez once he was removed from the contest for the Patriots' final series of offensive plays. His helmet unable to mask his reddening eyes from his coaches, Mendez was visited, one by one, by several of them after his two-interception game.
"They just told me, 'We know your capabilities. We know you're a leader. ... This is just one game and it doesn't change anything," Mendez says was their message to him.
B-P head coach Jim Pelneau was the first one to comfort Mendez, as the second-year head coach wrapped his arm around him and kept saying, 'It's OK, Gabe. It's OK.'"
"Gabe -- and all the other guys, too -- took that game very personally," says Pelneau. "They really care and that's what has made us have a different attitude as a team from a year ago. I just wanted to reassure him -- and them -- that I was still with them, that it wasn't one guy's fault.
"We win as a team," finishes Pelneau. "And, we lose as one, too."
Still, the words did little to help Mendez that night. The loss was Mendez's first in a football uniform in two years and it was the first time he had ever dropped a decision by such a wide margin.
Worse, he felt like he was one of the main reasons the game got out of hand so early for the Patriots, who fell behind 38-0 before LaPort's score.
"I failed to perform up to my capability and, to be honest with you, I failed as a leader," says Mendez. "I didn't lead to the capability that I should have, and I told my team that after the game."
Luckily for Mendez, his teammates had his back. Senior Tim Gordon says he sought out Mendez after Saturday's game and had a simple message for the quarterback.
"I told him he's a great kid, a great quarterback and he's a great leader -- our leader," says Gordon. "I mean, c'mon -- we all have our tough games and this is his first year playing varsity, in a game against the best team in our league."
Almost a week later, Mendez says the loss still stings, but he's begun to use the lessons from the contest to help himself improve. More importantly, he has wiped his face dry and is ready for a fresh start.
"He's bounced back," says Pelneau. "He's been fantastic. He's looked good. He's been high intensity and high focus. He's been back in charge in our huddle and he's doing great."
"He's ready for this game," adds Gordon. "He prepares and works so hard, so I know he'll be ready."