For those who were part of the Cheektowaga football team, or part of the big Senior Day crowd on the day the Warriors clinched the 2013 Section VI Class B North championship, there will be one image that they will all be talking about for a very long time.
It is of Preston Summers running down the sideline, right in front of his coaches and teammates, and a bleacher full of fans not far behind them. As he went by, people kept jumping up and down.
Summers returned a punt 65 yards with 20 seconds to play to give Cheektowaga a thrilling, 12-8 victory over Burgard to win a battle of top five small schools and win its third straight divisional title.
“I’m still like, is it true?” Summers asked after teammates dumped water on him during postgame interviews. “It’s not true to me yet. I can’t feel it yet. I’m just happy with the win. We just stayed together.”
Cheektowaga, ranked fifth in The News small school poll, improved to 5-1 and 5-0 in B North. Burgard, ranked third, is 5-1 and 4-1. The Warriors will be the top seed from B North and will play the fourth-place team from B South in the Section VI quarterfinals.
“I can’t even explain it, I’m so happy. It put some tears into my eyes,” said junior Marshawn Gibson. “I thought we were going to lose.”
Burgard held an 8-6 lead when it punted from its 31 with 34 seconds to play. Summers, a 5-foot-7, 145-pound senior, caught it at the Cheektowaga 35, made a move to his right to split two on-rushing Bulldogs, then cut toward the right sideline. As he reached midfield he was right up against the sideline, just steps away from his coaches and teammates. He managed to stay in bounds, speed past Burgard players who had closed up running lanes all afternoon, and run all the way down the sideline to the end zone for the 12-8 lead.
“I was just thinking about what coach Lackie told me, run outside, because I was cutting it inside the whole time,” Summers said of assistant coach Kyle Lackie. “So I said let me just go outside and see what happens. I went outside, there was a good block, and I just took off down the sidelines. I was thinking ‘this is too good to be true.’ I don’t know how it happened.”
Said Cheektowaga coach Mike Fatta: “It’s funny, in practice, he’s got the whole sideline all the time, and he always cuts it up — all of our backs do. We were actually yelling at them Wednesday: ‘Just get to the sideline.’
“I thought he was going to run out of bounds, but he kept going, and he kept staying in. I expected their speed to wipe him out. I looked up and there was no one there. It was amazing.”
The big play decided a game that was scoreless for the first half and in which yards were tough to come by for both teams (Cheektowaga had 139 total yards, Burgard had 134).
Cheektowaga took a 6-0 lead on Gibson’s 10-yard run with 3:44 left in the third. Burgard went ahead, 8-6, when senior quarterback Rayshawn Jones ran for a 28-yard score and then added a two-point conversion run with 11:02 to play.
Cheektowaga recovered a Burgard fumble with 5:26 left, but its 20-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Burgard took over with 1:49 left, but Cheektowaga used its timeouts and forced the punt.
“We had a tough time last year,” said Fatta of a first-round playoff loss, “and these were the guys left over. At one time I looked up and said, ‘Let it happen for these guys, because they deserve it, because they’re all heart. And it happened.”