With names like Gronkowski, McDuffie and Bittner gracing their list of alumni, it might seem Williamsville North has been a frequent visitor to Ralph Wilson Stadium. The reality is the Spartans have never made a sectional final until now.
“We’ve started a lot of talent through the years here,” said coach Mike Mammoliti, who is in his 28th year with the program. “These kids are football junkies, and they have more ability in all three phases than any team I can remember in a long time.”
North’s title hopes could prove elusive as they are matched against undefeated Class A giant Sweet Home.
After losing four games last year in which it led in the fourth quarter, North adopted the theme this year to “finish.” The Spartans took that word to heart in the semifinals by outlasting Grand Island, 14-7, in double overtime. With a starting lineup that includes six sophomores and a freshman, North looks to unseat a team that has won 69 straight over Section VI opponents.
The 35th annual Section VI Championships begin with two games Friday night and three more Saturday. Here’s a capsule look at the matchups:
Jamestown (9-0) vs. Frontier (7-2), Saturday, 7 p.m.
Ralph record: Frontier will touch the turf for just the third time in its history. In its last appearance in 1984 it, ironically, defeated Jamestown, 6-3. Jamestown has some unfinished business at The Ralph in what will be its 17th appearance. It’s the Red Raiders’ third straight trip to the final, but they’ve lost the last two years to Orchard Park.
Defending champion: OP beat Jamestown, 35-20.
Sizing up Jamestown: Talk about explosive: The Red Raiders average 55 points per game.
No one is more responsible for the team’s 500 points in nine games than Jake Sisson. The senior quarterback has thrown for 2,469 yards on 137 of 203 accuracy. He’s got 30 TDs throwing and 19 rushing. “He’s so talented in regards to looking where weakness are in coverage and audibly and looking people off with his eyes,” said Jamestown coach Tom Langworthy. “He’s just a special player. He’s a player that doesn’t come around often.”
His receiving corps includes Stephen Carlson (840 yards on 45 catches), Zach Panebianco (808/40), Ben Larson (367/23) and Brian Park (359/18).
Leading rusher Da’quan Hollingsworth has 570 yards and had a three-touchdown game in Week Eight against Niagara Falls.
Sizing up Frontier: The Falcons look to match Jamestown’s stockpile of offensive weapons with a defense that has given up just 86 points in nine games. Senior linebacker Alex Licata not only can go sideline-to-sideline, evidenced by 70 his tackles, he’s also punishing as a pass rusher with seven sacks. Kicker/punter Adrian Cannon also can help in the battle for field position as he’s 31 of 31 on PAT attempts and has four field goals.
Frontier hopes to control the clock led by QB Tyler Gaglia (480 yards passing). RB Cameron Coon leads the team with 11 TDs.
Frontier coach Tim Myslinski said he’s asked his team to approach every game like it’s The Ralph and give everything it can on every snap.
They said it: “According to everyone in Western New York, we shouldn’t even show up on Saturday night. Everyone is telling us we’re going to get killed. Our boys will be tasting something they haven’t tasted in a long time. We know who we’re going against.” — Frontier coach Tim Myslinski
Quick fact: Both Jamestown and Frontier have beaten Orchard Park this year.
Williamsville North (6-3) vs. Sweet Home (9-0) Friday, 8:30 p.m.
Ralph record: Sweet Home has taken a unique path to 7-6 in sectionals. It lost its first seven tries between 1980 and 2006. Naysayers questioned if the Panthers could win the big one. They put those doubts to rest in a big way, reeling off six wins in a row. “I feel lucky and privileged, some guys never get there,” said Sweet Home coach John Faller.
Defending champion: Sweet Home beat West Seneca East, 28-7.
Sizing up Sweet Home: While North likely will find its surroundings distracting, Sweet Home has key players who have been there. WR Brandon Smiley and RB Jordan Evert played last year as sophomores. Evert needs 90 yards to reach 1,000. QB Kevin Torrillo has passed for 1,199 yards and 18 TDs. Newcomers Ron Wood and Steve Iverson are among the team leaders in tackles.
Faller said his team is in a good place. His players know their assignments and their experience can only help. This will be the first game for Faller since he recorded his 200th career win.
Sizing up North: The Spartans hope their luck on turf continues after they advanced with a quarterfinal win over South Park at All High Stadium and a semifinal victory over Grand Island at Tonawanda.
North boasts a tough front seven. It will need to protect QB Ryan Majewski as much as possible. RB Derick Isler scored in the second overtime to help beat Grand Island. Linebackers Nick and Jake Ames, and Duke Hwang need to be physical.
Game notes: The Panthers will be without top lineman senior John Narvaro, a three-year starter at tackle, who had season-ending surgery on a finger on his left hand. … North DB/WR Zac Kelly is the nephew of former Bill Jim Kelly. … Family members of the late football official, Matt Perillo, will be recognized at halftime.
They said it: “These kids have grown up cheering for the Bills, and when you’re coming down that ramp at night, it’s really something,” – John Faller.
Depew (7-2) vs. Alden (9-0) Saturday, 4 p.m.
Ralph record: Alden makes its eighth appearance having won the last three titles. Depew is 1-4 with the only win coming against East Aurora, 21-14, in 2007.
Defending champion: Alden beat Springville, 42-7.
Sizing up Alden: The undefeated Bulldogs have kept their fans on the edge of their seats this season with four late-game comebacks. Their regular season matchup with Depew, however, was convincing – 28-7.
Senior quarterback Brian Stoldt has lost just two games in this three years as a starter (30-2), and both of those teams (Hornell and Maine-Endwell) went on to win state titles. His game goes way beyond numbers, but for the record he’s thrown for 1,188 yards on 87 of 144 with 17 TDs. He has total command of a game and has been called an offensive coordinator in the huddle.
Wide receivers Austin Hopcia has 495 receiving yards and Dylan Dussault is close behind with 428. Sophomore running back Lyle Grant has 1,050 yards rushing with 13 TDs. Defensive end Phil Zobrest is relentless with 52 tackles and seven sacks, a handful at 6-foot-5, 240. Dussault leads the team with nine sacks at defensive end.
Sizing up Depew: The Wildcats seemed an unlikely finalist with their two best skilled players reduced to spectators because of injury. Depew was able to find the right combination after quarterback Anthony Buono (collarbone) and running back Rodney Turner (ankle) were lost.
“We’ve had kids step up all year, we played some different guys, they’ve got a little bit of resolve,” said Depew coach Brian Wilson. “We went into the playoffs with the ultimate goal to play one more week. Now we’re back at the Ralph against our old friend again.”
Dan Golba moved into the backfield from wide receiver and RB Nick Perrine moved into more of a feature role to help make up for Turner’s loss. Perrine had 122 yards and scored twice in the win over Eden. Junior Dylan Sekuterski has been solid since taking over for Buono. One of his favorite wide receivers is his brother, Derrick.
They said it: “The toughest thing about Alden is no matter what you do, it seems like they always have an answer.” – Brian Wilson
Quick fact: Alden has beaten Depew seven times in a row, with Depew’s last win coming, 19-0, in 2007.
Cleveland Hill (9-0) vs. Fredonia (9-0). Saturday, 1 p.m.
Ralph record: Cleveland Hill brings a 5-3 record into the contest. Fredonia is 2-2 with its last win coming in a 12-10 victory over Southwestern in 2010.
Defending champion: Cleveland Hill 22, Fredonia 20.
Sizing up Cleveland Hill: On paper this rematch has the potential to be the most competitive of the weekend. Cleveland Hill’s defense yields an average of 5.0 points per game while Fredonia’s offense averages 46.5. The Hillbillies are coming off Saturday’s semifinal in which they put up 72 points.
Cleveland Hill senior QB Aaron Jackson has fond memories of last year’s game as he had a 75-yard TD run. In the pocket the fade is probably his best throw.
Brandon Thomas has more than 700 yards rushing despite missing two games with an ankle injury. Coach Glen Graham described him as “a grinder.”
Sophomore Taylor Grayson has several 100-yard games. WR/DB Jared Watkins has had a big year on both sides of the ball. The stingy defense is led by 5-4 mighty mite Josh White (85 tackles), Wayne Jones, and Steve MacIllwain.
“I know Fredonia had a ton of juniors last year, and I know they are very athletic,” said Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham. “They have a back (Matt McCarthy) who is tearing it up down there and having a fantastic season. Defensively they are one of the best in the South Division without question.”
Sizing up Fredonia: The Hillbillies have been waiting a year for this rematch. No one is hotter than running back Matt McCarthy, who scored seven touchdowns while rushing for 316 yards against Akron. He has 1,386 yards with 27 TDs. QB Weston Ley has thrown for 1,152 yards and 14 TDs. WR Dylan Meyer checks in with 532 yards.
At 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, Brett Seekings anchors the line. DE Jake Rinus is a top tackler.
Fredonia will be slowed by the loss of LB and team captain Cody Smith, who was on crutches Monday after severely spraining his ankle against Akron.
“He’s not a rah-rah type of guy, he speaks softly, he gets excited on the field,” said coach Mike Marshall. “The way he plays he makes everyone around him step up their games.”
Randolph (9-0) vs. Maple Grove (7-1), Friday, 6 p.m.
Ralph record: Maple Grove is 5-9 while Randolph is 8-5.
Defending champion: Randolph beat Maple Grove, 21-0.
Sizing up Randolph: The Cardinals, riding a 19-game winning streak, have plenty of weapons. They return seven players on both sides of the ball from last year’s state championship team. Randolph handled the Red Dragons in the regular season, 35-7.
Quarterback Mitch Maycock has been lauded not only for his arm but ability to manage a game. He’s 31 of 72 for 603 yards and eight TDs.
Protecting Maycock is a line that averages 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, amazing size for Class D ball.
Senior RB Chris Doubek has rushed for 1,782 yards on 136 carriers with 28 TDs. Doubek is 5-9, 165 and draws part of his strength from wrestling.
A player who goes unnoticed is fullback Lucas Brown, a solid blocker. Leading tacklers are Cody Oldro with 88, Brown with 86 and Doubek with 80.
Sizing up Maple Grove: The Red Dragons have given up only 53 points all season, but 35 were to Randolph in their regular season meeting.
Maple Grove’s Jonah Tanner, a team captain who plays wide receiver and defensive back and is the team’s holder, left the Portville game with an apparent head injury in the second quarter.
Feature back Ryan Miller had 110 yards in his last start, but he nursing an injury as well.
“We’re going to give it a shot, I’d just like to be healthy,” said coach Curt Fischer.
Chautauqua Lake players, juniors Chandler Baker and AJ Hulton, have been big contributors.
“They said it: “It doesn’t get any better than this – Maple Grove-Randolph – it’s intense.” – Randolph coach Brent Brown.
Quick facts: These teams have combined for five state championships: Maple Grove in 1998 and 2008 and Randolph in 2005, 2009 and 2012. Randolph has had turnovers and 16 takeaways.
Cattauragus/Little Valley (7-1) vs. Frewsburg (5-3), Saturday, 10 a.m.
Defending champion: Ellicottville 34, Clymer 10.
Sizing up Cattaraugus/Little Valley: WR/DE senior Colt Agnew has caught a TD in every game except the Panama game, and in that one he ran a kick back for a TD.
RB Justin Forster needs 15 yards to join his brother, Josh, as a 1,000-yard rusher.
“He’s a little powerhouse,” said coach Tim Miller. “He finds creases and as small as he is (5-foot-5) he’s very difficult to bring down, he’s like his brother in that regard. Both are very hard-nosed. Justin’s got a little more wiggle.”
It’s no secret the Timberwolves like to run behind 230-pound guard Damien Watts.
Sizing up Frewsburg: The Bears, in making their fourth trip to the Ralph, are doing so devoid of any superstars.
The team is pretty balanced with 1,220 yards rushing and 1,029 passing. Sophomore QB Brad Brady had 984 yards with 11 TDs.
Kevin Rogers leads the ground game with 562 yards.
Defensive end Zach Haller and linebacker Trevor Spicer have 63 tackles each.