Warriors search for progress Warriors search for progress during difficult 100th season
SALAMANCA — The 100th season of Salamanca football has been a tough one, to be sure.
The Warriors fell out of playoff contention and struggled to find a win in a rebuilding year.
This Friday, they play FranklinvilleEllicottville, one of the best small school teams in the area this season. It’s the first Salamanca at Ellicottville game since 2006, when the Eagles beat the Warriors 12-6, and the first meeting between Titans coach Chad Bartoszek and his alma mater.
The struggles in 2015 were predictable, given the mass of seniors occupying the 2014 Warriors and the lack of varsity experience stepping into big roles. New coach Paul Haley had to turn to underclassmen and older players who had not played before.
Early on in the season, Haley referred to history as an example for his inexperienced group.
At a Sept. 10 dinner honoring the 100th anniversary of Salamanca football, Haley told a story of his 1993 Warriors. Haley made the Big 30 All-Star team as a linebacker for George Whitcher in what may have been considered a down year.
“We had three returning starters going into my senior year,” Haley said. “No one expected us to do much. We didn’t have much coming back. We lost our first game but then we went on a little run and got ourselves into the playoffs. We played undefeated Newfane in Newfane, had a big goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.”
The win sent Salamanca to the Section 6 championship against Gowanda at then-Rich Stadium. At Media Day, though, the TV crews talked only with the Panthers’ players, not giving Salamanca much of a chance after losing 20-0 in the regular season.
“They had a big meeting room and the Section 6 head said, ‘Does anyone have any questions about anything?’ A kid from Gowanda stands up and goes, ‘So after we beat Salamanca, who do we play next?’” Haley recalled. “I just remember I’ve never wanted to get up and punch somebody in the face in front of all these people. I’m looking at coach (Whitcher) and I think he’s going to beat me to it.
“There was not a word said from the time we left Rich Stadium the whole car ride home. We get to practice and he said, ‘Paul, I want you to walk out there and explain to our team what those (expletives) did to us up there.’ We got to that practice and it was a melee.”
On the Rich Stadium field, after a pregame “moshpit,” Salamanca overturned the regular season meeting for a 12-6 championship win.
“No one in the world gave us a chance,” Haley said. “We had no studs that year. People talk about all the great Salamanca teams and I guarantee no one on that team would make the list. But we’re the one that was a team and that’s the only way we would have won. I explain that to our kids now. We’re never going to be the biggest, never going to be the fastest but we can damn sure be the toughest and that’s what we’re going to to.”
Many at the dinner discussed how to bring kids back to football. Haley singled out one of his players, freshman Ira John, as an example of a young man willing to put in necessary work. John emailed Haley over the summer, making a personal appeal to join his brother and cousin on the varsity squad.
“A lot of kids nowadays don’t take the initiative to try out for varsity,” Haley said. “This kid went out of his way to send me an email and tell me how much he wanted to be a part of this team, this tradition and follow in his dad’s footsteps. That, to me, is what it’s all about. These kids got it, we’ve just got to get it out of them.”
After Week 5, a loss to AlleganyLimestone, Haley allowed some reflection. The loss to the Gators, he said, showed an improvement from a shutout against Southwestern.
“The losses are tough to take, but not when we’re watching these kids grow,” he said. “We’ve got some guys coming in the future that’ll be fun to watch.
“We know the score. But to watch the progress — a lot of teams get to 0-4, 0-5 and they start quitting — these guys are picking up steam. We might not win a game this year but we’re making progress. These kids are learning more about life. You’re going to take your lumps and get back up.”