on December 7, 2013 - 12:09 AM
, updated December 7, 2013 at 12:14 AM
Trying to pick a signature moment for this season’s Buffalo News Player of the Year is as difficult as defending him.
Is it the record-breaking, tone-setting game against Kenmore West in Week Two? The head-shaking running display one week later? The last-minute comeback in the Week Seven shootout at Orchard Park? The offensive display – in one half – in the sectional semifinals? Another record-breaking performance in the Section VI title game? The back-and-forth battle with the eventual Class AA state champions in the regionals?
Yes, there were quite a few. Go figure: In a year of mind-boggling numbers for Jamestown and the quarterback who led them, we have ourselves another long, impressive list.
During a season in which Jamestown kept winning, and scoring, leading the way was senior quarterback Jake Sisson, the 36th recipient of The Buffalo News Player of the Year award.
Sisson, who was selected for the honor over fellow All-Western New York first teamers Canisius senior Qadree Ollison, St. Joe’s senior Nigel Davis and Randolph seniors Chris Doubek and Cody Oldro, is the quarterback of the 56th All-WNY football team, selected by The News and longtime contributor Dick Gallagher in consultation with area coaches and officials.
“It’s a dream to be on this team,” Sisson said of the All-Western New York honor (the Player of the Year winner is not announced prior to publication). “It just shows how much you’ve worked hard – it really means a lot to me to be on this team.”
Sisson’s many outstanding numbers and records are impressive, but so are some of the names he moved past.
He set two marquee passing records this season, and in doing so he broke marks of two excellent quarterbacks of recent seasons, both of whom won the Connolly Cup as Western New York’s most outstanding football player. Sisson is one of 10 finalists for this year’s award, which will be announced today.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Sisson is the new Western New York single-season passing record-holder, surpassing 2011 St. Joe’s graduate Chad Kelly (currently at Clemson). Sisson’s 3,184 yards not only passed Kelly’s 3,050, but landed him in the second spot on the state’s single-season list behind the 3,677 by Greg Paulus for Syracuse’s Christian Brothers Academy in 2004.
The biggest chunk of Sisson’s season total came in that Week Two comeback win at Kenmore West, with initial reports and tweets setting a buzz that would continue for nine more weeks. The Red Raiders needed all 508 of his yards to come back in a 50-28 win after they trailed, 28-24, in the third quarter. That performance moved him past the 2009 total of 492 by 2011 Williamsville South grad Joe Licata (now starting at the University at Buffalo). Sisson’s total is fifth in the state record book.
“My goal every game was to go out and get a ‘W,’ ” said Sisson. “The single-game passing record in Week Two that I got, I didn’t know until after the game. I was more happy that we got the win, especially because in the third quarter we were losing – one of the few times we were behind late in the game.”
“The single-season record I didn’t know until after the game, too,” Sisson said of the mark that came in what would be Jamestown’s final game, a 48-34 loss to eventual state champion Aquinas of Rochester. “Unfortunately we didn’t get the ‘W.’ I was focused on trying to win the game and not personal records.”
And yet they came. Sisson set the Section VI championship game record for passing – and nearly did it by halftime. One week after he had four TD passes and two TD runs during a 41-7 first half of a 69-14 semifinal win over Kenmore West, he had another big half at The Ralph. Sisson had 270 yards passing in the first half against Frontier, which saw Jamestown go from a 21-0 halftime lead to a 42-7 victory as Sisson finished with 402 yards. That mark broke the record of 325 set in 2010 by Clarence’s Zach Lauricella, who is entering his junior season playing baseball at St. John’s University.
The recent performance that provides significant perspective on Sisson’s season is Kelly’s 2011 year. Both quarterbacks were tremendous dual threats.
In 11 games, Kelly had his 3,050 yards passing and 27 touchdowns along with 991 yards rushing and 14 scores for 4,062 total yards and 41 touchdowns.
Also in 11 games, Sisson threw for 33 TDs while running for 723 yards and 24 scores for a total of 3,907 yards and 57 touchdowns.
His running ability was best seen in Week Three, when he followed up his all-time passing performance with a four-touchdown game in a 58-32 win over South Park: He threw for 292 yards and ran for 164, including TDs of 42, 29, 42 and 53 yards.
For his top moments this season, even Sisson is torn. The Section VI title game is a highlight since it was a such a special night for his team and the Jamestown program. Sisson also points to Jamestown’s come-from-behind drive in the final minutes against Orchard Park.
OP had the momentum after taking a 35-34 lead with 3:33 to play, but Sisson led Jamestown back on a drive that included two third-and-10 conversions, a 54-yard connection with Zack Panebianco and his 6-yard touchdown run before what would be a crucial two-point conversion pass to Brian Park to put Jamestown up, 42-35. OP drove the field for a touchdown, went for the two-point conversion and was stopped by the Jamestown defense.
“It wasn’t a play, but a drive,” Sisson said of his favorite moment. “It was that last drive … about 3:30 left and down six. We were going right into their student section, which was wild, and the band was down there.
“We came out: incomplete on first down, almost threw a pick on second down, third-and-long, hit a comeback on the side.
“Next four downs: incompletion, incompletion, third-and-long – got it again, went down the field and scored a touchdown with about two minutes left. I think that would be my moment this year.”
That drive was as good a sampling of his ability as any, extending plays with his scrambling, hitting big-time accurate throws like the long one to Panebianco. Sisson was on target whether in the pocket or on the move. And whether his runs were designed (as most were in the South Park game) or improvised under pressure, he became the type of downhill runner many coaches would love to see line up at running back.
“Most of our plays, if we’re going to run the ball we’re going to run the ball, if we’re going to pass the ball, we’ll pass it. We didn’t have any run-pass read option,” said Sisson, who has been contacted by several Division II and III programs. “Passing-wise, I’d go through my reads, read a defense, what they gave us. A lot of defenses played Cover 3, so we’d take what the defense gave us with the underneath routes. Aquinas did that against us, and we took underneath. Mostly I’d go through my reads, and when all else failed, just take off and run, knowing that I could use my legs.”
His description of his run plays is as direct as his running style: “Get up the field as fast as you can, try and get as many yards as possible.”
When he threw, Sisson had several excellent targets. Panebianco is joined by classmate Stephen Carlson on the All-WNY first team, while Park and junior Ben Larson were also great targets. The Jamestown running game included senior Da’Quan Hollingsworth and sophomore Zacc Kinsey.
“One person can’t make an offense run,” Sisson said. “Fortunately for us, we had four very, very talented receivers who could catch the ball, two guys who could run the ball, we had a very outstanding line that let us get all the plays off that we needed to. When you have a dynamic offense like that, you can put points up on the board like we did this year.”
Against Aquinas, the teams each scored three touchdowns in the game’s last six possessions.
“Knowing that us and Canisius, two teams from Western New York, challenged the Little Irish and were pretty much the only two teams that were close,” Sisson said, “it makes us realize how good we are compared to the rest of the state.”