Sabers in Super Bowl, seeking first 'A' midget title in 23 years
SALAMANCA — Jaxson Ross and Kruz Coustenis have a reason to wear their dads' 25-year-old windbreakers to school this week.
That's because the Salamanca Sabers midget football team is in the CCMFL Class A Super Bowl for the first time since the 1990s. The Sabers last played — and won — in the A midget title game in 1995 and two years prior, several of the team’s current coaches went through their own run to win the A championship.
Now Sabers assistant coaches Darren Ross and Alex Coustenis can watch their sons prepare for the game they played in 25 years ago.
“(We) both still have our windbreakers that we were handed at the end of the year at our banquet,” Alex Coustenis said. “Me and Darren both still have ours and that tells you a lot that they've made it through all the moves and college and all that stuff. His son's going to be rocking his around town and mine's going to be wearing mine.”
The Sabers beat Allegany in the semifinals on Saturday, 13-12, avenging a regular season loss. Zaron Tucker scored all of the team’s points, a kick return touchdown, extra point and 45-yard run. The first touchdown and extra point gave the team a 7-6 lead, then he scored on fourth down and one to go ahead 13-6. While Allegany scored a late touchdown, Salamanca held on with a stop on the extra point.
The Sabers (5-2) play the Randolph Raiders on Saturday at 5 p.m. for the Class A Super Bowl at Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School. At 11 a.m., the Sabers pee wees play C-LV in the B Bowl.
“Obviously it was a huge accomplishment,” head coach Seth Hostuttler said. “We did lose to Randolph earlier in the year and we came back, we had a dog fight with Allegany, we lost to Allegany on two defensive touchdowns. But we didn't let their offense score. Coming into this game, it was a big deal, I wasn't sure what kids were going to show up, the ones that say, 'Allegany already beat us, we don't have a chance,' or the ones that say 'We can play with this team.' The team that showed up was kids that were ready to play. We've had good attitudes all season.
“This is my 19th year coaching the Saber midgets and we've been close probably eight to 10 times getting to the A's, we've been one game away or we've lost a game to get there by a couple points. This year we succeeded, especially coming back to beat a team that just beat us two weeks ago.”
Tucker, Quinton Jones and Jason McGraw have led the team as captains, while a first-year midget quarterback, Jacob Herrick stepped in to run the offense.
Hostuttler was a first-year lineman on the 1993 Saber team and admits he doesn’t recall much of that time.
“I know the team but I couldn't tell you what (happened), I don't remember much else, he said.
Coustenis, however, recalled the coaching of Denny Ambuske and assistants Jay Weitzel and the late Al Watt kept the team in line in those days.
"We'd practice for two hours every night until dark," Coustenis said, "and then we'd always do like a 15-minute fun drill. Maybe the coach would punt the ball 70 yards in the air or punt it as high as they could in the air and everybody would line up and get a turn and see who the last one was that didn't drop the ball. I remember doing that all the time."
Meanwhile, Ross thought of the talent on that squad.
“Any one of four or five different guys could have been the one to score three touchdowns that night,” he said. “”And Chad Bart (Bartoszek), who went on to go the farthest among any of us, was a lineman on that team, I believe. And I still have the plaque and we like to break it out once in a while, 'Best team ever,' we'll take a picture and text it to each other or something.
“I do remember all of us meeting down to Crowley Park for the Super Bowl and all the parents were putting sandwich baggies on our feet and that kind of fun stuff you remember, the bread bags under your spikes.”
Salamanca is the rare community in the area to still field two youth football programs, the Sabers and the Warriors.
"To split the city into two teams and still have one of our teams make it to the Super Bowl," Hostuttler said, "and as of now we're in the top two in our football league, it's a pretty big accomplishment if either Salamanca team makes it this far knowing that there's still a handful of kids that could make your team a heck of a lot better playing for the other Salamanca team.”
The city still has enough football participation to necessitate the two teams. Hostuttler estimated 55 kids played midget football this year between the Sabers and Warriors and 65 played pee wee.
"We had a couple rough years where the numbers weren't where we like them and there was talk about merging and we looked at the younger programs and decided to stay tough, hold it out," he said. "The numbers have kept coming back. I've been 20-plus kids for six or eight years now, and I know the Warriors program is healthy, pee wees and midgets.
"That's one of the reasons we really can't merge, because if you did, the kids have to get all their plays in and I really don't think there'd be enough time in every game ... for everybody to see the field that way."