WNY H.S. Football Wrap — The Road to the Ralph
Alden maintains upper-hand on Depew to get back to Stadium
By Mike Pidanick
The final step wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t have to be. The Alden High School football team braved the elements and punched its fourth straight ticket to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bulldogs battled a steady rain and a tenacious challenge from rival Depew for a 28-21 win in a Class B sectional semifinal on Friday night.
“It feels beautiful, beautiful,” said excited Alden junior Dylan Dussault, who had a touchdown catch on offense and a sack on defense. “I can’t wait to go to the Ralph; I’m ready to go right now.”
Despite’s Dussault’s exuberance, the Bulldogs will have to wait until Saturday, Nov. 3. Alden will face upstart Springville — a 22-14 winner over Cheektowaga, at 4 p.m. at Ralph Wilson Stadium for their third straight Class B championship. The way Alden has played this season, the Griffins will have their hands full.
With the rain soaking the ball, the field and the players, it came down to running with authority — and nobody does that better than Corey Barczykowski. The senior standout ran 27 times for 178 yards and two touchdowns. In two games with Depew, he ran for 435 yards and five touchdowns.
“Barczykowski’s just a tank,” Depew first-year head coach Brian Wilson said. “He’s so tough to stop.”
He ran for 77 yards on Alden’s first drive — converting a pair of third downs, and capped it off with a 41-yard touchdown run.
Depew responded with a fullback plunge by Brandon Atlas, but the Bulldogs marched right back down the field. Dussault capped it off, catching a 2-yard touchdown pass from Brian Stoldt for a 14-6 lead.
Depew answered again with quarterback Anthony Buono and receiver Cody Penner grabbing center stage. Penner hauled in a 74-yard pass on second-and-21 and then capped the drive with a 16-yard catch-and-run for the touchdown. Buono ran in the two-point conversion for the tie.
Alden scored again on a Barczykowski run with 21 seconds left in the first half and added another on a QB sneak by Stoldt to take a 28-14 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Depew had another answer, though, as Buono hit senior Brian Rybak for a 32-yard score on a 4th-and-three play with 5:53 remaining.
“We were able to get the ball into the hands of one of our seniors and Rybak made a great play,” Wilson said. “We just couldn’t finish the job.”
The Wildcats had their chances. Depew had a drive with about three minutes left, but it stalled near midfield. A desperation drive in the final seconds ended on an interception by Alex Darrow deep in Depew territory.
“I was hoping for some more rain late when they had to throw it,” Dimunico said. “But we stepped up to the plate at the end and did a real nice job.”
Storybook season continues for Smigiera, W.S. East
By Steve Dlugosz
As green-clad players, fans and coaches alike gathered to partake in the massive celebration in the West Seneca East end zone following last Friday’s (Oct. 26) 37-12 over Williamsville South to assure it first trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium in 25 years, Trojans quarterback Andy Smigiera observed the scene with a sly smile of confidence and accomplishment accompanying a look of disbelief.
Smigiera, a senior, had just played perhaps the game of his life, contributing touchdowns on both sides of the ball, with two scores coming in East’s dominant fourth quarter. The first score came on a 45-yard scamper to break a 12-12 tie in which Smigiera used his athleticism to tip-toe the sideline and then burst to the center of the field, outrunning South defenders to the end zone. His second score completed an East flurry of three TDs in less than four minutes to close out the contest, as he picked off a pass and returned it 98 yards to pay dirt.
The final stat-line for Smigiera included three touchdowns — one rushing, one throwing and one on that pick six. He rushed for over 100 yards, threw for 50 yards, and snatched two interceptions. However, the senior and tri-captain’s most valuable contribution to the Trojans may have been represented in the form of leadership and in exemplifying a team-first attitude in helping West Seneca East punch a ticket to the Ralph.
“It’s indescribable,” Smigiera said in describing getting to The Ralph. “For all of the seniors, and the entire East community, it’s huge. We’ve gotten a lot of push from (WSE) alumni the past couple of days to accomplish the goals that we had set for ourselves…We weren’t ready to go home.”
Chants of “To The Ralph” loudly echoed into the chilly night air at East’s stadium, as players and coaches embraced one another. No team in 2012 has yet been able to knock the Trojans from the “W” column.
East entered Friday’s (Nov. 2) Class A sectional title game against Sweet Home at 8:30 p.m. with a matching 9-0 record. The Ralph appearance is the Trojans’ first trip to the Stadium since 1987, with the school’s other appearance coming in 1981.
East’s head coach Jim Maurino, who has overseen a significant program revival over the last half-decade, said the semifinal win against South was a culmination of his team’s work ethic and desire to make history at East.
“I’m so happy for (the team and school),” said a proud Maurino, accepting congratulations from many well-wishers around midfield after the contest. “To be 9-0 and heading (to the Ralph), it’s an amazing feeling.”
East had opened the postseason by eking out a 36-35 crossover victory in the “A” quarterfinals against Starpoint. The Trojans had also defeated Will South during the regular season, 28-7. Maurino acknowledged the level of difficulty in beating a solid team more than once during a season.
“We had sat and looked at the bracket going into the postseason, and we knew there was a good chance we’d face (South) again and how tough it would be to beat them,” noted Maurino. “But we stepped up tonight.”
During the contest, Smigiera implored his teammates to maintain their level of focus and to nail down individual assignments. Both teams struggled with penalties during a sloppy first half, but it was the Trojans who made big plays down the stretch when it counted most.
Following a tying score by the Billies to open the fourth quarter, coming on a short TD run by South’s Sam Cohen, East came back on its ensuing possession to reclaim the lead for good. Smigiera initially picked up a key first down on third-and-six with an elusive scramble, before his exciting 45-yard run to pay dirt. The touchdown gave WSE an 18-12 lead with 7:36 remaining.
Another of the Trojans’ tri-captains, senior running back Scott Ackerman, helped put the game in an even more favorable position for WSE when he ripped off a 65-yard TD run with just over four minutes remaining. Ackerman, who became East’s all-time leader in touchdowns, finished with 106 yards rushing on nine carries and contributed three receptions for 38 yards.
East junior linebacker Mike Waterman put the game on ice with two minutes remaining when he picked off a pass from Billies quarterback Conor Martin near the goal line and returned it 95 yards down the sideline to make the score 30-12. Smigiera recorded a pick six of his own on the next possession to close out the scoring.
East’s other tri-captain, senior linebacker Ryan Johnson, recorded the locals’ other interception on the first drive of the game. Johnson led the Trojans’ impressive defensive effort with 12 tackles. This year, he became the school’s all-time tackle leader.
Substituting for injured South starter Trent Ferguson, Martin completed 21 of 37 passes for 230 yards, but was intercepted four times. Billies star receiver Chaq Nettles recorded a game-high 11 catches for 121 yards, but was kept out of the end zone. Cohen contributed a game-high 154 yards on 20 carries, along with two touchdowns.
East opened the scoring late in the first quarter, when Smigiera hit a wide-open Ackerman with a 24-yard TD pass. The rest of the first half was a battle of field position, with penalties wiping out scoring passes by both squads. South tied the contest at six late in the third quarter on a Cohen TD run. However, the back-and-forth affair swung back to East less than 20 seconds later, when Spindler’s 66-yard run on an end-around play set up Smigiera’s 1-yard TD plunge.
“I can promise that we’ll work our butts off (in preparation for and during the sectional title game),” said Smigiera.
Sweet Home again seizes the moment to advance
By Mike Pidanick
Heading into the second half of a defensive slugfest, Sweet Home needed to step up and make some plays in its showdown against Grand Island.
Sophomore Brandon Smiley was more than glad to seize that moment. He had two interceptions — one that he returned for a touchdown, and added a fumble recovery to help the Panthers to a 13-0 win over the Vikings in a Section VI Class A semifinal on Saturday afternoon.
“Coach told us we had to make some plays,” Smiley said. “Big plays win games and defense wins games, also. Our coach said that if they don’t score, we can’t lose.”
The Vikings didn’t score. The Panthers defense has been dominant in postseason games, allowing only one touchdown and that was a late-game score in a blowout win over Williamsville East.
Smiley was a major factor in that. His biggest play came with 8:27 left in the fourth quarter. With the Panthers clinging to a 7-0 lead, Grand Island recovered a fumble and started at its 45-yard-line. But Smiley stepped in front of a pass and returned it 53 yards for a score that pretty much sealed the deal.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Truthfully, anybody on this team could have made that play. We have a lot of great players.”
The win was the 59th straight against Section VI opponents for the Panthers. Sweet Home will try for a sixth straight sectional crown at 8:30 p.m. Friday (Nov. 2) at Ralph Wilson Stadium against West Seneca East. The Trojans, led by standout quarterback Andy Smigiera, are also 9-0.
“It’s a new adventure; we haven’t played them since last year,” Sweet Home coach John Faller said. “The Smigiera kid is fast; he’s a double-threat passing and running. He’s the fastest guy on the field; we don’t have anybody that can match up with him. Hopefully our offense can move the ball against them.”
Against the Vikings, it looked like the Panthers were going to be able to move the ball with ease as running backs Khalil Humphrey and Jordan Evert marched down the field. A 40-yard run by Humphrey set up a four-yard scoring run for Evert and the Panthers were up 7-0 early on.
But from then on, it was all defense. After combining for more nearly 300 yards last week in a 46-6 win over Williamsville East, Humphrey and Evert were limited to a combined 103 against the Vikings, 75 of which came on two long runs.
But the Panthers defense was simply better. Grand Island ran 24 times for just 87 yards and added 45 yards on 24 pass attempts. Grand Island controlled the field position game for much of the fourth quarter, but couldn’t take advantage of three drive starts in Panthers’ territory.
“It wasn’t a cosmetic contest out there,” Faller said. “We just tried to find a way to win; defense came up and made some big plays.”
Fredonia ends JFK’s 2012 run
By Marquel Slaughter
Since losing its first game of the season at Fredonia, John F. Kennedy has been riding an eight-game winning streak.
With their first trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium since 1986 on the line, JFK ran into a solid opponent and poor weather conditions in falling to Fredonia 21-0 in the Class C semifinals.
“A storybook season ended slightly shorter than we had hoped, but we are still very proud of what we accomplished this year.” said co-head coach Jeff Sabatino. “It was a very difficult week for our program, but the kids did everything they could do to be prepared for this football game, and I’m proud of them for that.”
JFK went to Fredonia to open up the season and fell 28-14. As much as the Bears looked forward to this rematch, they admitted the Hillbillies were the better team after the game.
“Fredonia is a hell of a football team,” said Sabatino. “A great program with good strong kids. They were able to handle the weather and field position. They did what they had to do and congratulations to them.”
Field position was the name of the game during a rainy and muddy afternoon in Cheektowaga. There were plenty of fumbles, botched snaps and mishandled loose balls that could have bounced either way. The game was largely decided on the outcome of two punts in the third quarter.
JFK blocked a punt before recovering it on Fredonia’s 11. What could have been an easy scoop-and-score instead was downed 11 yards short of the paydirt. That play could have made it a one touchdown game.
After turning the ball over on downs at the five-yard-line, JFK forced Fredonia to punt from its own endzone. But Fredonia’s booming punt went 70 yards down field, aided by a favorable bounce and then was muffed by JFK and turned over. A few plays later, Weston Ley scored from 15-yards out to put Fredonia up by three scores.
“Obviously they handled the weather better than we did,” said Sabatino. “I have got to say that, but I’m not saying that’s the variable. Fredonia’s defense has been excellent all year. We struggled to get things going and they were the reason we struggled.”
After Jude Gardner took a screen pass 43 yards for a touchdown, JFK’s Zack Walkowski and Fredonia’s Matt McCarthy traded interceptions to set up Zack Buckley’s 8-yard touchdown to go up 14-0 at the half.
Although history awaited the Bears at the Ralph next week, Sabatino and co-head Mark Ostempowski are proud to have coached the best football team John F. Kennedy has had in over 25 years.
“Going into the season, I was prepared to see a lot of L’s and not a lot of W’s,” said Sabatino. “As they continued to rack up wins, we just became more and more impressed with them. They’re a ragtag bunch of kids who play hard football and I’m very proud of them. We are division champions. We’ve got that plaque and the pride from that.”
Ollison helps Canisius finish off rival St. Joe's, Noble
By Michael Straw
You couldn’t have asked for a better match-up of rivals and their running backs than the one on Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Robert T. Scott Athletic Field Complex in Kenmore.
Battling cold temperatures and a steady rain, a crowd of 6,212 witnessed the latest historic chapter of the biggest high school rivalry in Western New York in a game that had much more than pride and bragging rights on the line.
In a battle for first place in the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association, the St. Joseph’s Marauders faced a Canisius team which came in looking to complete their first undefeated season since 1976.
The teams traded leads all afternoon long, but it was the Crusaders who scored last and held on for a 28-21 victory over the Marauders, and clinch the number one seed and a first round bye in the MMAA playoffs.
“It’s hard to put it into words right now,” Rich Robbins, Canisius head coach said. “It was tough weather, tough day for both teams. [We both] had to run the ball.”
It was also game that spotlighted two of Western New York’s top running backs in Qadree Ollison of Canisius and Ilo Noble of St. Joseph’s. The two star players didn’t disappoint.
Ollison rushed for a Canisius single-game record of 344 yards on 39 carries to power the Crusaders. He was also responsible for all four Canisius touchdowns.
“He’s a hell of a back,” Marauders head coach Dennis Gilbert said. “We knew that if we let him get into space it was going to be trouble. He runs hard, he’s got good speed.”
On the Marauders side, Noble didn’t let down his coaches or fans either, rushing 20 times for 211 yards, including a 71-yard rush that went for a St. Joseph’s touchdown early in the second quarter.
“Ilo’s fast,” said Robbins. “He was faster than I thought when I saw him out here in person.”
With his team trailing 14-7 at half, Ollison took over in the second half, running the ball 21 times for 254 yards and three touchdowns in the final two quarters.
Ollison said that while he’s going to remember this game for the rest of his life, he knows that he wouldn’t have the success that he’s had without his offensive line.
“Our offensive line did great.” said Ollison. “Without those guys I couldn’t do anything that I do. I just want to attribute it all to those guys, the offensive line.”
Noble said that his teammates made key blocks to spring him free, but it was more a case of him taking advantage of what Canisius was giving him. However, he was more focused on what caused St. Joe’s to lose the game rather than his own personal achievements.
“It was a tough loss,” said Noble. “What we have to do now is learn from our mistakes because we made a lot of errors today. We were up at half then we just couldn’t get anything going, and suffered a huge downfall.”
While Canisius won the regular season division title and earned a bye into next week’s semifinal on Thursday, Nov. 8 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Marauders fell to third place and who now host Cardinal O’Hara on Nov. 3 in a quarterfinal match up. The loss also snapped the school’s four-game win streak over Canisius.
St. Francis continues gaining confidence after knocking off Timon
By Michael Petro
The type of confidence expected from a St. Francis football team is beginning to return just as the playoffs begin this weekend after another good effort, which yielded a second straight win.
This win represented the high point of a 2-7 regular season as the Red Raiders beat Monsignor Martin rival Timon-St. Jude 28-7 on a muddy field and rainy night Saturday (Oct. 27) at St. Francis. Timon, who was locked into the No. 2 seed in the MMAA playoffs coming into the game, has been one the league’s top teams all season.
St. Francis hadn’t enjoyed anywhere near the same success but was starting to make strides — as strange as this might sound, during a 56-0 loss at Ohio-power and nationally-ranked St. Ignatius. Red Raiders’ head coach Jerry Smith said his team never looked to get back on the bus to go home during that game on Oct. 13 at Beyers Field and it has helped spawn the team’s first winning streak of the season.
“It’s just a continuation of how we’ve been playing since the St. Ignatius game,” Smith said. “We’ve been playing tough and there’s never been any quit in them. Now, we’re also executing the way we’re supposed to... The kids are really getting some confidence.”
St. Francis’ defense, along with the weather, kept Timon’s high-power offense relatively in check for most of the game, while the Red Raiders were led by senior Alex Misterman’s three touchdowns and 199 yards, which puts him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Also offensively, senior quarterback Brian Melisz managed the game well, along with hitting Misterman on a pass for one of those scores, and running in a touchdown himself.
It was also the first time all season St. Francis had not turned the ball over at least once, according to Smith.
“We were able to do exactly what we wanted to do and the offense is going to dictate that,” Smith said. “We blocked the right people and played with a lot of enthusiasm. In most games, turnovers have been a problem — whether we were fumbling or throwing the ball to the other team, so to secure the ball was a very good for us.”
Misterman put St. Francis in the lead with a first quarter 66-yard run and then after Timon tied the game, he caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Melisz to answer. Jake Braunscheidal caught the two-point pass from Melisz to put St. Francis up 15-7 with 3:37 left before halftime.
Melisz’s one-yard scoring run and a second successful extra point in the game from Elliot Buccieri put St. Francis in the lead at 22-7 with 9:28 left in the fourth quarter. Misterman capped the scoring a little over three minutes later with a 30-yard touchdown run.
Melisz is back to taking most of the snaps at quarterback. St. Francis will being relying on his experience under center and ability to take what the defense is giving. He went 2 for 3 for 57 yards.
“We’re putting the ball on our players’ bodies a lot better,” Smith noted. “It helps the receivers make more catches and keep the ball from hitting the ground.”
Senior linebacker Jarrett Dolegala again led the defensive effort with a team-high 12 tackles. He leads the team with 65, nine of which are for losses. Misterman added 10 tackles in the game, including two for negative yardage. Mike Miller recorded seven tackles and an interception, while Tyrone Lawson also notched seven tackles and Braunscheidal, an interception.
Fifth-seeded St. Francis has a bit of a score to settle with No. 4 St. Marys but also something to prove to itself when it travels for a second time this season to the Lancers’ home field, this time for a MMAA quarterfinal game Saturday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m.
Smith said his team did not put forth the same effort as St. Mary’s, who, in running away with a 33-7 victory that day, beat St. Francis for the first time since 1999 in a 16-14 game. The Red Raiders will attempt to stop a steady dose of the running game, which features St. Mary’s junior Nick Vallone, who ran for nearly 300 yards on St. Francis last time the two met.
“The biggest thing to do is stop their running game. Like us, they don’t throw too often,” Smith said. “They go the way their running game goes, and they’re very deliberate with what they do. They keep plugging away no matter what. We have to match how hard they play. I don’t think we’ll have a problem with that this time.”