Warriors rally in battle of backup QBs
CATTARAUGUS — It was hardly the offensive game Paul Haley had in mind before Wednesday afternoon, and one he may not like reviewing on film, but that doesn’t make the Salamanca football team’s 2-1 start any less enjoyable.
With a backup quarterback, normally starting junior running back/wide receiver Tyler Hedlund, filling in for the injured Zariah Armstrong, Haley’s Warriors struggled to move the ball for three quarters Friday night against Cattaraugus-Little Valley. But Salamanca’s defense kept the game within reach, trailing 6-0 through three quarters, to give Hedlund a chance to learn on the fly in an option running-based offense.
The Warriors broke through with two fourth-quarter touchdown drives as Hedlund’s 20-yard run with 1:52 remaining gave Salamanca the lead in a 13-6 Section 6 Class D victory.
“That's a fun one,” a relieved Haley said. “We got handled for three quarters, but those guys showed up for the fourth quarter, thank God. I was afraid of this, I was afraid we would come in flat and we definitely did. But man, that fourth quarter they picked it up and made plays. That was great.”
Armstrong tweaked an ankle in practice Wednesday, when a teammate fell on him while practicing punts. The injury blew up Haley’s gameplan, but merely evened the Warriors with their neighbors at CLV, who had to replace Week 1 starting quarterback Dylan Bradfield after his wrist injury a week earlier against Clymer/Sherman/Panama.
Both defenses held the backup QB-led offenses in check for three quarters, with CLV before halftime off a botched Salamanca punt snap, which set the Timberwolves (1-2, 0-1) up at Salamanca’s 10 before Zach Bieber’s 7-yard touchdown run. CLV coach Tim Miller rightly worried the score would not hold up for four quarters.
“When you've got a 6-0 lead you're one play away from not being in the lead and we've given up big plays this year,” he said. “So I was pleased with the way the kids were playing, but if they pop one play we're in trouble. And they popped more than one. I think they were close but we've got to keep digging.”
More than half of Salamanca’s 183 total offensive yards came on its final two drives.
Junior Ira John, who moved from wide receiver to the backfield this week, scored the tying touchdown on an eight-yard run, finishing a drive started by a fumble recovery and sparked by a pass interference penalty. Three minutes later, Hedlund produced the only two plays on the winning drive, first a 39-yard run, then the touchdown. Jeremiah Shoup’s third-down sack of CLV quarterback Jason Fisher all but sealed the game, pushing the T-Wolves to a 4th and 18 from their own 45 and forcing Miller to use his last timeout with 18 seconds left.
Hedlund finished with 90 yards on 16 carries to go with 50 passing yards.
“Tyler's a kid when the pressure's on you know he's going to be the one that steps up,” Haley said. “When it's coming to crunch time, he's the one that's going to step up and make plays for you. We put that offense especially in for him because he has that ability (to be) a gamebreaker. We finally cleaned up our snaps and stuff like that, and our gameplan looks a lot better when we get good snaps and the line blocking.
“We'd actually planned on easing (Ira John) into the running back spot but with Zariah out, he's had two days of being a running back. We've definitely got to get the ball in his hands more. This week was such a whirlwind. When you lose your quarterback two days before the game and Little Valley's in the same boat, they fought tough.”
Salamanca botched three punt snaps and lost 50 yards on penalties, squandering field position gains and setting drives back before they could start. But the mistakes largely stopped with the game on the line.
“Our defense was lights out,” Haley said. “Against Maple Grove (a 34-6 loss), our defense kept us in that game. Our defense has been great all year. It's our offense and special teams that's put us behind the sticks here... we've got to clean up our offense and we want to spread the ball around but we can't get the time there's nothing we can do. But our defense, coach (Dustin) Ross has got the flying around, he's doing a great job with it.”
Bieber led the CLV offense with 52 yards on 19 carries. Nick Burroughs and Tim Ulinger each recorded six solo tackles and a sack.