A road trip to Jamestown means the bus trip is longer. It means the turf is harder. It means the crowds are often bigger, and louder.
“What makes it different is their history,” said Orchard Park coach Gene Tundo. “Jamestown has a very storied history in football and I think the atmosphere not just there, but in the Southern Tier, they have a small college town atmosphere, where football is a way of life.”
Tundo and his defending state champion Quakers (5-0), ranked first in The Buffalo News large school poll, face arguably their toughest test of the season tonight when they make the 70-mile trip down to Jamestown, where a proud football program has been on the rebound in recent seasons.
The Red Raiders (4-1), despite a tough, 35-28 loss at Frontier last week, are ranked eighth among large schools. Tonight’s winner will take control of the AA South division, which is just one reason the Jamestown community hasn’t looked forward to a home game this much in a long time.
“This is a huge game,” said fifth-year coach Tom Langworthy. “Our kids are really excited, our community is really excited. It’s the biggest game down here in quite a while. It’s a tremendous opportunity to play Orchard Park, on Strider Field, and on homecoming. This team has worked really hard to get to this spot. They realize this is a game that will define them, especially the seniors. They want to beat OP.”
Langworthy has reenergized the Jamestown program that struggled mightily following the retirement of legendary coach Wally Huckno after the 2003 season. Jamestown won its first playoff game in a decade in the 2010 quarterfinals and had its last two seasons end with losses to Orchard Park: in the 2010 semifinals and in last year’s championship game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Orchard Park owns a 12-game win streak over Jamestown. The last time the Red Raiders beat OP was in Week Three of the 2002 season, when sophomore Joel Rowe hit a 37-yard field goal with 8.8 seconds left to give No. 2 Jamestown a 17-14 win over No. 1 OP at Strider Field. OP won at Jamestown, 10-9, in the semifinals that year and haven’t lost to the Raiders since.
Orchard Park has won 18 straight games overall, including last year’s 13-0 state championship campaign. OP hasn’t lost to a Western New York opponent since falling to Clarence in the 2010 Section VI final, a run of 15 straight games. OP has also won 17 straight regular season games after falling at Clarence in Week Two of the 2010 regular season.
“I think it’s going to be an epic Jamestown-OP battle,” said Tundo. “They’re a very talented team. They’ve got a great running back, their quarterback throws an excellent ball and they’ve got a couple of receivers who can go up and get it. Along with their line, it makes for a potent offense.
“I think Jamestown is dangerous. They have Cortland Haines [a 6-2, 265 senior] – he’s kind of like our Mike Senn [OP’s 6-3, 300-pound senior lineman]. I anticipate a really good football game.”
Junior quarterback Jacob Sisson has thrown for about 800 yards for the Red Raiders, about the same total that has been racked up by 5-8, 160-pound junior running back Da’Quan Hollingsworth. Haines is joined up front by John Czech, a 6-4, 210-pound senior.
Tundo said he is wary of the Strider Field artificial turf, which is a hard, quick surface that Tundo described as “antiquated.”
“It’s the old-fashioned turf, like an outdoor carpet on a cement pad,” he said. “It’s very quick.”
The Quakers are coming off two games which have raised concerns from some onlookers. OP rallied to win at Frontier, 27-10, before fending off Lancaster (1-4) in a 34-24 home victory. Senior running back Mitch Wilson and senior receiver Austin Goltz sat out the Lancaster game with injuries and Tundo hopes to have them back tonight.
“I don’t think ‘struggle’ is the way to look at it,” Tundo said of the Lancaster win. “Lancaster played great. There’s another football team out there, and they have a say in what happens, too. It’s two football teams out there, and it’s a win. It’s not gymnastics. It’s not a perfect 10.
“We’re 5-0. Our kids played hard and kept fighting and digging and then pulled away. ... I’m happy with our team. We’re just going to keep doing what we do. We don’t look at how close games are. No one cares in the long run.”
Another Week Six highlight are two games Saturday that feature the two teams behind OP in the large school poll.
No. 2 St. Joe’s (5-0) heads to No. 9 Lockport (4-1) at 2 p.m. in a rare top 10 large school battle between Section VI and a Monsignor Martin Association team.
At 3 p.m. Saturday at Canisius’ Stransky Complex in West Seneca, the Crusaders (5-0) host Section V (Rochester) power Aquinas (4-1). St. Joe’s halted the Little Irish’s 25-game win streak against Monsignor Martin teams last week in Rochester.
Another top 10 battle takes place on the small school side, where No. 2 Cheektowaga (5-0) heads to No. 9 Lew-Port (4-1) at 7 p.m. tonight.