A few days later, I think I’ve finally digested last weekend’s Section VI football championships. One word keeps coming to mind.
When outstanding programs like six-time defending champion Sweet Home and three-time defending champion Alden have their reigns ended, when not too many people expected them to, it makes for a special weekend. Williamsville North took it to Sweet Home right from the start of the A final while Depew made championship-worthy plays to win the B final.
In the final championship game, Jamestown’s script could not have been much better as it won the AA title. A team that has put up eye-popping offensive numbers all year set three major offensive records to finish its quest of reclaiming its first Section VI title in 13 years, while it also set the stage for a major showdown in this weekend’s Far West Regionals in Rochester.
The five Section VI champions head to Sahlen’s Stadium today and Saturday to take on their championship counterparts from Section V (Rochester area) for the right to advance to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinals.
In The News today and Saturday are game-day capsule scouting reports on the regionals. In addition, here’s a look back at the epic events of last weekend, along with a look ahead to this weekend’s games.
Looking back: Senior quarterback Jake Sisson’s 402 passing yards, junior wide receiver Zack Panebianco’s 181 receiving yards (all in the first half) and the team’s total of 602 yards in its 42-7 win over Frontier were very representative of an offense that amazed many in Western New York by putting up at least 50 points in eight of its 10 games. It will go down as one of the most memorable evenings for the Jamestown football program, one that was witnessed by many of its own fans (as well as a ton of blue-clad fans from Frontier).
Looking ahead: Jamestown (10-0) vs. V-Aquinas (10-0), 6 p.m. Saturday:
The unquestioned marquee matchup of the weekend, the only one that pits two undefeated teams and one that many have looked forward to since before the start of the season. Aquinas is No. 1 in the state poll. Last year, it fell to Orchard Park in what was a battle of attrition on every snap. Aquinas owns a 3-0 victory over Canisius in Week Two that had a similar feel.
That tight win over Canisius is one that some pollsters – myself included – have used to help justify voting for Canisius as No. 1 among Western New York large schools ahead of Jamestown (Jamestown has most of the votes and has been No. 1 for much of the season).
So a win for Jamestown has poll implications, as has often been the case since Aquinas – an opponent of many Monsignor Martin teams – is one of precious few common opponents that exist between local public and private schools.
A win for Jamestown would most certainly mean another big game for Sisson, and a big game for Sisson would mean more records would be broken. The quarterback, who has received Division II and III interest but has yet to attract Division I offers, currently has 2,871 passing yards this season. That total is fourth-best in state history; the second-best is the Western New York single-season record of 3,050 set in 2010 by Chad Kelly. The state record of 3,677 was set by Greg Paulus of Syracuse’s Christian Brothers Academy in 2004.
Which prompts many questions: How can a team that has put up numbers like that all season long – even in its closest game (a 42-41 win at Orchard Park in Week Seven), be shut down? Can Aquinas’ talented defense render Jamestown’s offense as simply ordinary?
Section VI AA teams have excelled at the state level in recent years, so why shouldn’t Jamestown and this vaunted offense? Or were the Red Raiders’ numbers achieved against a Section VI Class AA division that was down this year?
Oh, the questions that will be answered Saturday night. Aquinas has an excellent offense of its own led by standout sophomore quarterback Jake Zembiec and its usual cadre of skill position weapons. The Little Irish usually have a nasty line that leads the way on both sides of the ball, which I think will eventually make the difference in this game. Aquinas is playing at its home away from home, it is very used to the state playoff spotlight and it is considered to be the best team in the state. It is the favorite for many reasons.
However, if Jamestown is able to hold its own at the line of scrimmage, enabling Sisson and his many playmakers to put up some numbers, then it is really going to be a fun night of football.
Looking back: One of the plays that stands out to me from the entire weekend is Will North’s first offensive play of the A final. The Spartans lined up tight and just blew off the ball, leading the way for a 4-yard run by senior quarterback Ryan Majewski. It was a statement from North that would be backed up the rest of the night.
While North’s win was an upset, it was no miracle. With that kind of line play and several playmakers coming up throughout the game time and again – notably senior running back/defensive back John Isler, senior lineman George Attea, junior back/linebacker Duke Hwang, senior wide receiver Kolbe Hughes and Majewski – the Spartans outplayed Sweet Home and certainly deserved the win.
Looking ahead: Williamsville North (7-3) vs. V-Eastridge (9-1), 8 p.m. tonight. Look at the records and the history and Eastridge is the favorite (at No. 7 in the state poll it is one spot ahead of North). The talented, two-time Section V champions nearly beat Sweet Home in last year’s regionals before the Panthers mounted a classic two-touchdown comeback in the fourth quarter and won in overtime.
North has those three losses. The Spartans were the seventh seed in Class A. They finished third in A Central and they excelled in the playoffs while both teams that finished first and second (McKinley and Williamsville South) lost home games in the first round. North lost to Grand Island in the regular season, then squeaked by them in overtime in the semifinals.
There was no way to see last week coming. But now that it did, if North plays like that again, they could return to Rochester for the state semis and even make it to Syracuse on Thanksgiving weekend.
Looking back: Like North, the team that is playing right now is playing some really good football. In the best game of the weekend, the Depew Wildcats survived an outstanding comeback attempt by Alden senior quarterback Brian Stoldt, right down to stopping his two-point conversion run attempt to tie the game in the final minutes. You want epic? Go to BuffaloNews.com or photographer Harry Scull’s Twitter feed (@hsjrphoto) to see the straight-from-Hollywood picture of a Wildcat and his cheerleader girlfriend embracing after the huge victory.
Looking ahead: Depew (8-2) vs. V-Geneva (9-1), 3 p.m. Saturday:
As is the case in A, Section V is a slight favorite here, as Geneva (No. 7) is ranked one spot ahead of Depew. Geneva won its first Section V championship since 2006, while Depew won its first Section VI title since 2007. Geneva benefited from five turnovers in beating Wayne (6-4) in the Section V final. With the win over Alden, which was ranked in the state’s top five all season, and the way they did it with big plays on both sides of the ball, it would not be a surprise to see Depew move on.
Looking back: The two smallest classifications were both reruns from last year. Cleveland Hill’s performance was perhaps the most impressive of the weekend to me, as it made a very explosive Fredonia offense look ordinary in a 22-13 win.
Looking ahead: Cleveland Hill (10-0) vs. V-Wayland-Cohocton (9-1), noon Saturday:
If experience counts for something, the Golden Eagles can feel good about returning to the regional round against an opponent in Way-Co, which is coming off its first Section V title.
It is notable that there is no giant waiting in the regional round as there was last year, when Cleve Hill lost to Hornell. Based on the combination of speed, size, playmaking and defense that led the way for Cleve Hill in a neutralizing of Fredonia, it probably deserves its “favorite” status according to the state rankings (No. 4 to Way-Co’s No. 8).
Looking back: In what was quite expected, defending state champion Randolph routed Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake (35-7) as talents like quarterback Mitch Maycock, running back Chris Doubek, lineman Cody Oldro and others that make the Cardinals so formidable certainly looked state-championship caliber.
Honorable mention in this category to Frewsburg and junior standout Jordan Ingerson, who had three touchdowns in the Bears’ DD 33-0 win over Cattaraugus/Little Valley. Ingerson was extremely fired up after the game, and very well-spoken about it in an interview you can watch at the Prep Talk blog. He was the latest great example of the outstanding addition of the Class DD game, which concludes the season for those teams.
Looking ahead: Randolph (10-0) vs. V-Red Jacket (9-1), 5 p.m. today.
The Cardinals have been No. 1 in the state rankings all season. Section V, as it usually does, had several teams ranked in the poll throughout the season, and Red Jacket is currently at No. 5. It was be a major surprise if Randolph did not make it to the state semifinals, where many have expected a second straight showdown with Section IV power Tioga in the semifinals.
Around the halls
• Next week’s episode of PrepTalkTV is a special one as we will reveal the 10 finalists for this year’s Connolly Cup live at BuffaloNews.com. Members of the Connolly Cup committee will join us for another early kickoff (4 p.m.) as the Monsignor Martin title game is that evening.
• There is no Power 10 this week. The next Power 10 for the fall will be the final overall rankings of Western New York’s top teams of the fall season and will come well after the completion of the fall campaign.
• Speaking of top teams of the fall, there are only four non-football teams still competing after many Section VI champions lost in regional play over the weekend.
In competition against Section V (Rochester area), Section VI went 0-5 in boys soccer, 1-4 in girls soccer, 0-2 in boys volleyball and 1-2 in field hockey. Girls volleyball, which had an extra regional playoff for Class B and C, had two of its five champions reach the New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinals.
Still standing are: Eden (Class C; winner of four straight state titles) and Randolph (D) girls volleyball, which are headed to Glens Falls Civic Center for semifinal pool play Saturday; Holland girls soccer is at the Cortland area for a Class C semifinal Saturday; and Barker field hockey is at Cicero-North Syracuse for a Class C semifinal Saturday. If any of the teams should win, they play for the state championship on Sunday.
• The cross country season continues for local standouts, including at Saturday’s state Federation meet at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls. The St. Joe’s and Sacred Heart teams will compete, along with the following individuals (according to ny.milesplit.com): Canisius senior Billy Christ, sophomore Liam Gallagher and junior Brian Armstrong; Frontier senior Matt McCann, Maple Grove senior Corey Wefing and East Aurora sophomore Kenny Vasbinder (boys); Buffalo Seminary freshman Samantha Burlow, Mount St. Mary sophomore Kim Fohrd and senior Hailey Rose Gattuso, Maple Grove sophomore Hope Pietrocarlo, Frontier freshman Hannah Kennedy and Newfane senior Kelly Bochnewetch.