Warriors, Shoup take a first step forward
PORTVILLE — A year ago, Jeremiah Shoup could only watch his Salamanca football teammates from the sidelines every Friday night of his junior season.
Shoup, who had torn his ACL in the winter of his sophomore year, missed all of the next football season. He returned to the field in triumphant fashion Friday night, piling up 149 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries to lead Salamanca to its first regular season victory since 2014. The Warriors spoiled Portville’s home opener, 38-10, in Week 1 Section 6 Class D play.
“I couldn't be prouder of him,” third-year Salamanca coach Paul Haley said of Shoup. “He honestly tried so hard to come back last year and we just knew it wasn't possible. But he still worked his tail off and he still came to the team. For him to have a day like today, that's what sports is about. That's what it's all about.”
Senior running back Braden Siebert scored the game’s first (13 yards) and last (10) touchdowns. At linebacker, he made five tackles and a crucial fourth-down sack.
Salamanca dominated the first half, save for one Portville safety set up by an interception at the 1-yard line, to take an 18-2 lead into halftime.
Junior Warriors quarterback Zariah Armstrong completed 5-of-7 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns, 43 yards to Tyler Hedlund and 14 yards to Ira John. The first touchdown showed the trust the Salamanca coaching staff places in Armstrong, as he audibled out of a run play to make the deep ball to Hedlund.
“We actually called a running play, he went hot on it and you see what happened,” Haley said. “I've been telling him for a year and a half that he's got all the tools in the world to be a great quarterback and he just needs to realize. Tonight hopefully is a step in the right direction to him realizing how good he can be.”
Salamanca’s special teams made an immediate impact when Ira John returned the opening kickoff 51 yards to set up Siebert’s first score. The Warriors also recovered two kickoffs, one an onside kick to start the second half.
“It's a very immature team,” admitted 26th year Portville coach Gary Swetland of his squad. “They don't have game experience, they don't have maturity in game situations. If you're really looking at the aspects of the football game, in terms of penalties, special teams, turnovers, I would say we didn't play terrible. But big plays, a kickoff return (setting up a) touchdown, onside kick to open the the second half, fourth-down plays that go for either big first downs or touchdowns. Those are devastating to immature players, young players. The real question is this, if we improve from our errors then we'll get better. If we don't improve from our errors, then we won't.”
Sophomore Portville linebacker Roland Thompson led Portville with nine tackles. Sophomore Dalton Tobola marked 41 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
The Panthers, who went 0-8 last year, lost quarterback Kyle Murray to an apparent ankle injury in the first half. Swetland said “four or five” players had to leave with injuries and two did not finish the game.
"I thought Michael (Stillman, backup quarterback) came in and did a great job,” Swetland said. “But you don't count on that and Kyle's also our punter. To everybody's credit, everybody who stepped in for injured players played hard. It's just a matter of getting better... that's the great challenge of youth."
Portville’s best stretch of play came in the third quarter, following Salamanca’s score off the opening onside kick. The Panthers drove 54 yards with DJ Hlasnick scoring their only touchdown of the night, then forced a three-and-out from Salamanca. With the ball in a two-score game (24-10), Portville drove again to the Salamanca 19, where Siebert forced a stop on a fourth-down sack.
“I think it's a little bit of them not knowing how to win yet,” Haley said. “They haven't been up too often, so they need to learn that. It's a step of the process.”
But mostly, Haley can’t complain.