Tonawanda football closes out Small in big way
“It means the world to me,” said Tonawanda senior Zach El-Sharif. “It’s amazing. I’d do anything to have (this experience) again.”
He wasn’t the only one to feel that way. On Oct.25, senior QB Clayton Hess was in on three TDs and had a pair of interceptions as Tonawanda ran away with a 41-14 over Newfane in what is expected to be the final varsity football game to be played at the venue before it is moved to the grounds of Tonawanda High School, where a new complex is slated to open in fall of 2013.
“I’m really happy we walked out of here with a win tonight and protected the tradition tonight,” Hess said after the game. “We did it for Chris (Slauson), we did it for all past alumni and we did it for ourselves, most importantly.”
Hess scored on runs of one and nine yards and connected on a 12-yard pass to Dave Hutzler. Hess’ two INTs were part of seven turnovers the Panthers committed. He also completed 11 of 15 passes for 102 yards.
Tyler Hughes scored three touchdowns and rushed for 101 yards on 21 carries in the win.
“We kind of wanted to redeem that (loss to N.T.),” Hughes said. “We all had a chip on our shoulders. We had to get this last win on the field for the tradition and everybody else that played here.”
The Warriors’ mental toughness was challenged early as the Panthers jumped right back into the game when Jimmy Branca scored on a 65-yard halfback option pass to cut Tonawanda’s lead to 13-6.
The Warriors remained focused, confident and left everything out on the field.
“We just had to shake it off,” Hess said. “It’s (about) how you can bounce back from mistakes. The team made a mistake and we recovered from it and played great.”
For head coach Rob Gross, a former Warrior himself, to see his players capture the win on the field they all grew up on was well deserved.
“It’s great for the seniors. They were sophomores when I got here and they did everything I asked them to do,” Gross said. “They did a great job for us every year and I’m extremely proud of their effort every night. They’ve totally bought in and done everything right and they deserve this night. They deserved to win their last game.”
Before leaving the field, Gross gathered his team and coaches for one last look at the scoreboard. Gross congratulated them on the win and told them, as a final goodbye, to run down and get one final touch of the scoreboard.
His players rushed to the end zone and, as if they were all high-fiving Clint Small himself, jumped up and got one last touch of the board. That’s the stuff memories are made of.