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Big 30 notebook: Salamanca hoping to build off surprise win

Courtesy JP Butler - Olean Times Herald

SALAMANCA — For Paul Haley, it was the metaphorical carrot at (or, in this case, near) the end of the tunnel.

From the beginning, his Salamanca football team has faced one of the toughest schedules in the Big 30, and perhaps the most challenging of any local squad at the lowest class level in either New York or Pennsylvania.

Included on the Warriors’ gauntlet of a slate this year:

— Two games with defending New York State Class D runner-up Maple Grove.

— Two games with Class D league favorite Clymer-Sherman-Panama, which currently ranks No. 9 in the Western New York small school rankings.

— A non-league contest against Class B Olean High.

— A non-league matchup with Franklinville/Ellicottville, a Class D power every year since its merger in 2014.

Salamanca has taken its hits, previously dropping three in a row by an average of 23 points to fall to 1-3. But it’s also survived them, recently winning two straight for the first time under Haley, including Friday’s head-turning, 24-12 upset of Olean High.

Haley described the victory over the Huskies as the biggest in his four years with the program. It probably supplanted Allegany-Limestone’s close Week 4 loss to Southwestern as the most surprising effort by a New York Big 30 team this season.

What could that performance do for the Warriors heading into the final two weeks of its regular season and playoffs?

“It gives them the confidence to know that they can play like that,” Haley said. “We hadn’t really played fired up like that at all; we hadn’t played with that spark. I thought we did that on Friday, so hopefully they realize how much that helps them. They were fired up from start to finish and it made a difference.”

Salamanca’s win was one of the bright spots for New York teams over the weekend, alongside A-L picking up its first win (over Cattaraugus-Little Valley) and Pioneer and Randolph/Frewsburg moving closer to their preferred playoff seeding.

In a year where the Warriors could well have struggled to find wins, they’ve managed to pull back to .500. That gives the New York side a fourth team, alongside Pioneer, R/F and Olean, at 3-3 or better. Through six weeks, six teams now stand at 1-5 and another, F/E, is 2-4.

And their performance didn’t go unnoticed by the Big 30 committee.

“Salamanca really dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” one observer said. “This was the first time I’d seen Salamanca this year and I thought all the skill guys – (Zariah) Armstrong, (Xavier) Taylor, (Ira) John and (Tyler) Hedlund – had solid games.

“The kid who jumped out to me, though, was Kawliga Stahlman. He plays a nice defensive end and really contains the edge. He was also a solid blocker from the point of attack from his tight end position.”

A year ago, the Warriors went 5-4, snapping a 16-game regular season losing streak with a victory in their season-opener. With a strong core, including a Big 30 all-star in Hedlund and league all-stars in Ira John, Asa John and Tristan Gillette, back in 2018, Salamanca figured to have a chance at being even better this season.

Given the schedule, however, it would be difficult to gauge how much better. Friday’s win over Olean provided a strong indication.

“Quite a bit,” said Haley, when asked just how much his team has improved since the beginning of the year. “It’s hard to say were not after the game we played on Friday. That was about as complete a game as we’ve had since I’ve been here.

“The offense was clicking, the defense was lights out. Our special teams actually helped out quite a bit. I thought all three phases were quite a bit better than what they’ve been.”

Entering the final week of the regular campaign (and the penultimate week for the Warriors and C-LV), only a handful of NY squads have anything for which to truly play: Pioneer is looking to wrap up an undefeated season; Randolph/Frewsburg is aiming for the No. 2 seed in Class C South; Olean will look to secure a playoff berth in Class B.

For Salamanca, it doesn’t get any easier after that resounding victory over the Huskies. In these final two weeks, they’ll see rematches with both C-S-P and Maple Grove, teams they lost to 47-19 and 49-22, respectively, earlier this fall.

It would also have to get through one of those squads to reach the Class D championship game.

Haley, however, is hoping that what the Warriors have faced to this point – a dynamic that he said has “been good” for his team – has created a battle-tested mentality that may help spring another upset or two going forward.

“I think we can compete,” he said. “I think we showed that on Friday … we can play with schools that are bigger or have had more success to this point. Now we have a little confidence where you know what, maybe we can go compete, we can get these games.

“We can be in these games instead of what they’ve been. Now we have to go out there and do it again.”

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