Warriors ride defense, special teams to winning regular season
Hedlund, John each score twice as Salamanca dispatches Gowanda, 32-13
GOWANDA — Mark this one as a win for the Salamanca defense and special teams.
Despite being outgained 200-167 in total offense, the Warriors’ football team rode four Gowanda/Pine Valley turnovers, two for defensive touchdowns, and a special teams touchdown to a 32-13 victory over the winless Panthers (0-7, 0-4) in non-league play Friday.
Of course, the total yards don’t include the 86 amassed on Tyler Hedlund’s punt return for touchdown in the second quarter or the combined 57 gained by a fumble recovery for touchdown by Austin Reyes and interception return by Ira John. Salamanca also gave itself excellent field position by twice recovering kickoffs on short, high kicks from Braden Siebert to catch the Panthers’ special teams off-guard.
“Braden has a real knack for dropping that in there, dropping the ball in the holes and getting guys to it,” coach Paul Haley said.
“All season, coach (Dustin) Ross has had them dialed in,” Haley added of his defense. “He's done a great job with them. They're our bread and butter. Our offense has been trying not to get in our own way and do enough but not kill us. Luckily our defense has been there all year.”
By virtue of Cattaraugus-Little Valley’s loss to Randolph/Frewsburg Friday night, the Warriors finished fifth in Section 6 Class D with a 2-3 league record (holding a head-to-head win over CLV) and will visit No. 4 Chautauqua Lake next week. By winning its two non-league games, Salamanca finished the regular season 4-3, its first winning mark since 2013 (the same year as its last win over Gowanda) after winless regular seasons in ‘15 and ‘16.
“That was our first goal this year, to have a winning regular season and we accomplished that tonight so we're very happy,” Haley said. “It was kind of a sloppy game but we got through it. Sometimes you've got to play though those (mistakes). We came out in the second half and were a different ballclub. We finally got some bounces, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, interception for a touchdown, those are the things we haven't been getting. A punt return for a touchdown. We just haven't been getting those kind of bounces and we finally got some today.”
Gowanda/Pine Valley worked a methodical 11-play, 86-yard drive to score on Hunter Ring’s three-yard run after Hedlund’s punt return, taking a 6-6 score to halftime.
Salamanca’s offense scored twice, first on a 21-yard pass from quarterback Zariah Armstrong to Hedlund in the third quarter. The Warriors immediately build on the lead as Reyes scooped up a fumble on the first play of Gowanda’s next drive to take a 20-6 lead.
Ira John added a 40-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and a the “pick six” to seal the game in the fourth quarter. He finished with 83 yards on 15 carries. Hedlund and John, two juniors, scored a pair of touchdowns each on multiple sides of the ball.
“You can see the plays they make every week, those two are two of our best playmakers,” Haley said. “They've come a long way. Those are two kids that put the work in all summer, so you can see the results.”
John marked an unofficial team-best six tackles. Asa John had a sack and Jeremiah Shoup and Carson Hoag had fumble recoveries.
Running back Caleb Maloney finished with 57 yards on 16 carries, providing a spark at times out of direct snap “wildcat” plays. Wide receiver Nate Brawdy pulled in three catches for 60 yards.
But three lost fumbles for the Panthers, an interception and several special teams lapses told an all-too-familiar story for coach Sean Gabel.
“They're athletes, they want to make a play, but you've got to understand you can't take two touchdowns with one carry,” Gabel said. “They're juniors, they're young, they're going to learn. The seniors, we played, they didn't quit, they left it out here, but we've got to hold on to the ball, we can't turn the ball over and expect to pull something out.
“Hats off to Paul. The Salamanca kids came, they brought it and they played tough. But these kids have got to know that little things win you the game.”
With a game in the Chuck Funke Memorial Classic Bowl consolation playoffs approaching, Gabel hopes the reality of a winless regular season helps motivate his 17 juniors on varsity through the offseason.
“I say it and these kids are living it: you win football games in June, July and August,” Gabel said. “That's where the great teams are working to win a game and that's one thing our juniors are getting a reality check. It can't be more simple than the visual aide. Practice is important, preseason is important but the offseason is important. Get into sports, get in the weight room after school, be a better student, little things like that, that makes a big difference.”
Salamanca 0 6 14 12 — 32
Gowanda/PV 0 6 0 7 — 13
Salamanca - Tyler Hedlund 86 punt return; run failed, 6-0
Gowanda/PV - Hunter Ring 3 run (11 plays, 78 yards); kick blocked, 6-6
Salamanca - Hedlund 21 pass from Zariah Armstrong (5 plays, 34 yards after fumble recovery); Austin Reyes kick, 13-6
Salamanca - Reyes 30 fumble return; Reyes kick, 20-6
Salamanca - Ira John 40 run (2 plays, 45 yards after turnover on downs); kick failed, 26-6
Gowanda/PV - Justin Kohn 4 run (8 plays, 67 yards); Mattias Rikka kick, 26-13
Salamanca - John 27 interception return; kick failed, 32-13
First Downs 10 14
Rushes-Yards 32-138 39-108
Passing Yards 29 92
Comp-Att.-Int. 3-7-0 7-17-1
Total Offense 167 200
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 5-3
Penalties-Yards 4-40 2-20