High School Football: Frontier gives state’s No. 1 O.P. a run
A jolting hit for Orchard Park may have changed the course of a game that was heading toward a possible upset, but what happened before that momentum-shifting play may have been just as jolting in the right direction for the confidence of Frontier.
After the Falcons drove the field on the opening possession of the second half for a touchdown to take a 10-7 lead in the game and then held on defense to get the ball back at midfield, what seemed to be a reeling Orchard Park team showed why it’s the state’s top ranked large school.
As Frontier quarterback Ben Koch rolled right on a first down run, he was hit solidly from behind by Orchard Park linebacker Jett Modkins jarring the ball loose. Connor Eddy picked up the bouncing ball and ran it down the left sideline for a 50-yard touchdown.
The play put the Quakers up by three points with 4:36 left in the third quarter and from there, they took control and scored 14 unanswered points to hold off Frontier in a 27-10 Class AA South Division game. While Orchard Park improved to 4-0, Frontier fell to 2-2 in its home opener after opening the season with three games on the road.
“This team showed a lot of character. We had the No. 1 team in the state 10-7,” Frontier head coach Tim Myslinski said. “We had a nice drive going and then we had that turnover where they scooped and scored. They’re a great football team, and I’m very proud with how my kids responded and my defensive coaches prepared. I’m excited that we had some young kids step up and they now have that taste for how they need to play.”
Coming off consecutive wins, including an upset at Clarence, the Falcons gave another noteworthy effort that exhibited the growth of a young team becoming a maturing group learning what it takes to compete among the best in Western New York.
Though defending Class AA state champion Orchard Park came into the game off size-able margins of victory in its first three games of the season, senior quarterback Ben Holmes was not surprised to have received the type of challenge that Frontier presented.
Holmes, who would throw for a pair of touchdown passes and 101 yards in the game, said he respects what Frontier has been able to do this season and the effort that the Falcons gave Friday.
“For almost every team, playing Orchard Park is like their Super Bowl and like their state championship. This Frontier team is also a really good team,” said Holmes, who credited his own team’s morale staying in tact and being able to depend on one another to make a big play in coming back. “I give Frontier a lot of credit. I have nothing but respect for them and their coach and the way they played.”
Orchard Park responded to an impressive opening drive from Frontier, which resulted in a field goal, with a long kickoff return from Austin Goltz and three plays later, Holmes cashing in on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Raphael Pagliei with 5:07 left in the opening quarter.
The Falcons had moved down the field the previous drive courtesy of a 58-yard connection between Koch to junior receiver Ricky Fitzgerald. Adrian Cannon booted a 36-yard field goal from the right hash mark. Frontier held the deficit to 7-3 at the half, stopping the Quakers twice in the red zone over the first two quarters.
The lead switched hands less than five minutes into the third quarter as Koch hit senior tight end Bernie Cuthbert on a 17-yard touchdown pass. Cannon’s successful extra point put Frontier up by three. On the drive, Koch hit Cuthbert twice for 31 yards and Cameron Coon broke a 17-yard run. Cuthbert finished with six catches for 55 yards, while Koch threw for 113 yards and ran for another 71.
After an Orchard Park rushing touchdown was called back on a holding penalty, Frontier forced a three-and-out and punt on the ensuing drive. The Falcons seemed in business as Orchard Park snapped the ball over the punter’s head, forcing a kick on the run that netted only three yards.
“Here we are 10-7 against the top team in the state and we’re driving on them and doing good stuff — our kids chests are beefed out a little, but Orchard Park has been there before,” Myslinski said. “We haven’t beat them in a long time.”
The Quakers took full advantage of the momentum created by the fumble return for a touchdown. After getting the ball back late in the third quarter, Orchard Park marched 73 yards in 14 plays, capped by a nine-yard touchdown from Holmes to Goltz on fourth-and-goal on a low throw to the left corner of the end zone. Earlier in the game, Goltz also had an interception for the Quakers on defense.
The touchdown with 6:21 left in the game was met with some skepticism from the Frontier sideline, which believed Goltz had caught the ball on a short hop. While he didn’t blame the officials for the loss, Myslinski was disappointed in some of the calls such as that one and what he believes became a “12th man” advantage for Orchard Park.
The Quakers all but clinched the win, coming up with an interception from Brandon Innes on the second play of Frontier’s ensuing drive, which three plays later they turned into points when Modkins ran 31 yards for a touchdown. Modkins did most of his damage in the second half, finishing with 116 of his 140 yards in that time.
“Our philosophy is play the next play and sometimes, young kids don’t do that and that happened today,” Myslinski said. “They got the momentum and we didn’t come back from that...If these kids continue to improve and take a step up that ladder, focusing on that one play at a time...there’s going to be good things for the future.”
Despite playing through a leg injury, which hobbled him for much of the game, senior linebacker Nick King had another big game, which included two sacks and several other run stopping plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Cannon added an interception for Frontier, while teammate Kevin Hamilton had a sack.
Myslinski hopes what he perceives as a bright future for his team also translates into continuing to take impressive steps this season. His team now embarks on a two-game stretch of home divisional games which will determine whether the Falcons make the playoffs in a log-jammed division with five teams competing for the final three playoff spots.
He also believes his team owes a little pay back to it next opponent, 4-0 Jamestown, which beat up on Frontier last year. The week after, the Falcons host Lancaster.
“Jamestown put up a lot of points on us and embarrassed us a little bit, leaving a bad taste in the back of my kids’ mouths, so this is one of those bench mark games that you know is on the schedule,” Myslinski said. “It’s going to be another big game for us.”