The short version of how the Sweet Home earned its 65th straight football victory over Western New York opponents could be summed up with three great passing plays and a defense that wouldn’t budge.
The long version is about younger players learning how to step up in a big road game, coaches melding a different unit each year into something formidable, and a program continuing a run of success that is both staggering and taken for granted at the same time.
Junior quarterback Kevin Torrillo threw for three impressive touchdowns, one in each of the first three quarters, while the Panther defense limited Grand Island to 69 yards as Sweet Home won the meeting of unbeaten top 10 large schools, 19-7, before an estimated 900 at Gene Masters Field.
“I could have told you on Aug. 13 that it was going to be this type of game,” said Sweet Home coach John Faller, referring to the first day of practice. “I felt we left a few points out there, but the defense made up for our mistakes, and our offense made up for their mistakes. … For some of us, this is a growing process — games like this — and we met the challenge today.”
Sweet Home, ranked fifth in The Buffalo News large school poll and the winners of six straight Section VI Class A titles, is 5-0 after passing its toughest test this year.
The Panthers’ 4-0 mark in Class A North ensured at least a share of the divisional championship heading into its league finale next week at Kenmore East (4-1, 3-1). Grand Island, ranked eighth among large schools, is also 4-1 overall and 3-1 in A North play.
“It’s a big game every year — they play us tough every time we play them,” said junior co-captain Brandon Smiley. “We had a lot of breakdowns, but we came through in the end.”
Torrillo (15 of 24, 210 yards), who took over the position for graduated brother Michael, helped Sweet Home to a 13-7 halftime lead by throwing a pair of touchdowns on fourth-and-long. He hit senior Mark Walker (three catches, 64 yards) on a 30-yard score in the first quarter on fourth-and-14, and junior Jordan Evert (14 carries, 78 yards) made a leaping catch on a 20-yard score that came on fourth-and-10.
In the third quarter, on third-and-goal from the 12, Smiley reached up to make a good catch of a fine pass to the middle by Torrillo for a 19-7 lead.
Grand Island was able to get the ball in Sweet Home territory, but the Panthers stopped GI on downs to prevent it from becoming a one-score game.
“A few of these guys woke up today a little bit about the pressure, playing under pressure,” said Faller, whose team lost seven starters on both sides of the ball from last year’s state finalist team. “Some of the new guys we had in there had to step up. For some, it was a new experience. We’re better for it. We’re not quite a team yet, but we will be.”