On Western New York's opening weekend of high school football, there was the usual explosion of the known and the unknown: Things we knew turned out to be right, some things we suspected turned out to be wrong, and then there was stuff we didn't necessarily see coming.
Buffalo Public Schools teams came out playing perhaps as well collectively as they did all last season. West Seneca schools went 2-0. Lockport gave Orchard Park a pretty good stiff-arm early on. Sweet Home scoffed at those (including this reporter) who entertained the possibility that its win streak against Western New York teams might be in danger as it opened at North Tonawanda (score in fourth quarter: 46-3; final score: 46-19; win streak vs. WNY: 51 games). In all, a ton of promising story lines to track for the rest of the year.
For Bishop Timon-St. Jude, however, they packed a season's worth of emotions into one game.
The Tigers won at Williamsville South on Friday night, 21-14. Timon played tremendous football to gain a 21-0 halftime lead in the rarest of meetings: one between two of Western New York's top public and private schools. That first half had the Tigers headed to what looked like one of their biggest victories in over a decade. It confirmed they would very much be in the mix for the Monsignor Martin championship, and to me they looked like a favorite.
But then senior receiver Bryant Fulton went out with a leg injury. And then quarterback Ryan Dougherty sat out the second half with a knee injury.
And then there was the somber look on Timon coach Charlie Comerford's face after the game. The win was huge, but he knew the injuries were perhaps more so. The next morning, trips to the doctor confirmed that the swing in emotions was all too real for Timon: broken fibula for Fulton. Out for the season. ACL tear for Dougherty. Out for the season.
I cannot remember a more significant swing from such a momentous win to such momentous losses, a head-jerking turnaround from what was to what might have been.
In the aftermath of what was surely devastating news for Dougherty, he showed great leadership and maturity - still playing the role of quarterback despite very likely not being able to take the field (he will get a second opinion on the knee today and has said he'll try anything to keep playing).
"I love my team and know they're a great group. Next guy up. They can do this without me," he tweeted on Saturday after disclosing the news he would be out for the season.
The bad news is that Timon has lost two major cogs of a powerful passing attack as it plays two games that it would have relished being able to play with a healthy squad: at Ohio power Steubenville followed by a trip to Rochester power Aquinas, which dominated St. Francis in Week One.
The good news is that Timon has some time to figure things out before its league games begin. It plays a nonleaguer in Week Four against Wilson Magnet (which it beat handily last year), and even when its Monsignor Martin slate begins, it starts with St. Mary's and Cardinal O'Hara before finishing with St. Joe's, Canisius and St. Francis; then the playoffs begin.
There's more good news in the long run. Adam DiMillo, the junior running back who was outstanding for the Tigers last year, is expected to return from a lacrosse injury before the league schedule begins. Senior J.D. Recor was excellent on both sides of the ball Friday night - including at tailback in DiMillo's place - as was senior fullback/linebacker Jackson Brown and many others, including some big guys on the line like 6-foot-5 senior Kyle Polakiewicz (three sacks). Taking over at quarterback is likely sophomore Derick Simpson, another playmaker on both sides Friday night.
The injuries would be tough for any team, but they are even more so for Timon, whose numbers have usually trailed the other "large" schools in Monsignor Martin.
"They've only got [32] on their roster, but 20 of them are real good football players," Canisius coach Rich Robbins said prior to the season. "And they're tough kids, they go both ways, and they've been doing that for 15 years."
Tough enough to regroup after such an emotional season-in-a-game? We'll see. Part II of Timon's 2012 campaign becomes what happens in their league, and I certainly wouldn't count them out of it.

Thank you, coach Kurzanski

Nearly lost in Timon's postgame injury situation was that the game itself was indeed the marquee matchup we had expected since it was announced last winter. South coach Kraig Kurzanski and his school's athletic department should be lauded for scheduling a private school and participating in a nonleague matchup that regularly exists in every high school sport in Western New York - except Neanderthal football. There was a great crowd on hand and fans got to see where two of the best from each side stacked up. The victory is certainly one that Monsignor Martin supporters will point to as a sign of the quality of their league, and it will certainly help pollsters like myself sort things out, but those are smaller issues. It was a great night and a great event for players, coaches, the schools and Western New York, which is what high school sports should be about.
Afterwards, coach Kurzanski expounded on why these games should be played - and this was coming after a loss. I couldn't help but nod along as he made some of the same points I've making for more than a decade.
"It's awesome," he said. "I just wish they had their own [state] playoff system. I've coached in the Catholic league both here and in Rochester. I don't think they should be competing in our playoffs because they do have some advantages. But they should have their own playoff in the state of New York, which they don't have. Then maybe we would play these every week and neither one of us would have anything to lose, and everything to gain, and our football would get better in Western New York.
"It's more than a [nonleague game] for us and Timon. This is rare. When these rare events come up, it's a showcase. We wanted to showcase this town, we wanted to showcase our kids, and it's just great for high school football. We had a lot of people that probably came out . for the first time to watch a game like that. We have to do more of this. We have to get more guys in the public schools in tune to do this. It just can't be a handful of us. The AAs are playing two nonleague games this year. Come on, man. I'm not picking on those guys, but we have good football teams here that can make them better, that can play on a state championship level, and they should be playing those teams. That's just my opinion."

Clarence/OP showdown

Clarence is rated eighth in The News' large school poll this week, but I have a suspicion that perhaps voters didn't notice the Red Devils' big opening win because it came late in the afternoon on Sunday. Clarence beat defending Section III (Syracuse area) Class AA champion West Genesee, 34-33, in a special Week One event at the Carrier Dome.
For a little context, West Genesee lost in last year's Central regional to Binghamton, which Orchard Park beat in the state semifinals. The win earned them the No. 3 spot on my ballot (see How The News voted at the Prep Talk blog), but the Red Devils came in at No. 8 in the poll.
Clarence senior quarterback Mark Armstrong had an outstanding day, completing 14 of 20 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns.
When the schedule came out with Orchard Park at Clarence at 7 p.m. Saturday in Week Two, it seemed like a good-but-not-great game. That certainly changed with Clarence's big win as well as OP having some early troubles against Lockport. Saturday's matchup is certainly ready for prime time.

PrepTalkTV Sunday

Our new, live, half-hour high school football show - PrepTalkTV Sunday - debuted at this past week. Each Sunday at 8:30 fellow News reporter Lauren Mariacher and I will review the top games, interview players or coaches along with many other features. Every week the show is followed by a 9 p.m. live chat with myself.