Post Journal - Bartoszek’s Team Faces Adversity In Big Win
SALAMANCA — At halftime of Friday night’s Class C South football game, a golf cart carrying George Whitcher made its way around Veterans Park before settling near midfield, facing the press box that bears his name.
An announcement on the public-address system invited any of Whitcher’s former players in attendance for Salamanca’s showdown with Southwestern to join him on the field where they could greet the legendary coach and have a group picture taken with him.
The special moments were just beginning for the Warrior alumni, although Salamanca head coach Chad Bartoszek (Class of 1999) couldn’t have predicted it after his quarterback, senior Hayden Hoag, went down with a knee injury. Two plays later, Southwestern’s Aidan Kennedy scored the game’s first touchdown.
That put Bartoszek in a dilemma.
Who would take the snaps from center for the rest of the game?
Jesse Stahlman, Salamanca’s top running back, was the first choice and he acquitted himself quite well, connecting with Cole Hedlund on a game-tying 15-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But when Kennedy threw a perfect 8-yard pass to Cam Lemk in the left corner of the end zone and Neves Hoose booted the extra point, Bartoszek found his troops staring at a 13-6 deficit with 2:48 remaining.
He had another decision to make.
Although Bartoszek doesn’t like to play freshmen in a varsity game, he needed someone who was comfortable throwing the ball, given the fact the Warriors needed to go 70 yards for a touchdown. The young man he called on was Maddox Isaac, the only ninth-grader on the roster.
“It was time,” Bartoszek. “We wanted to get to overtime. We could have run Jesse every play. Once they scored, we had to open it up.”
On the first play of the drive, Isaac completed an 8-yard pass to Jason McGraw.
On second down, Isaac threw incomplete, but his 8-yard run on third down gave Salamanca a new set of downs at its own 46.
Isaac was just getting warmed up.
On the next play, he threw a dart to Hedlund that, after the catch and run, resulted in a 48-yard gain to the Trojans’ 6. Two players later, Stahlman — back at running back — bulled his way across the goal line for the score, cutting the deficit to 13-12 with 13 seconds remaining.
On the deciding two-point conversion attempt, it would have been understandable if Bartoszek had decided to put the ball in Stahlman’s hands. He was, after all, the young man who finished the night with 128 yards on 28 carries. Instead, Isaac took the snap from center, rolled to his left and found Zaron Tucker in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning points.
“(Isaac) led an undefeated modified season last year,” Bartoszek said. “Everyone knows who he is in our program. He’s a great athlete, a good kid. I’m always thinking about the health and wellness of our boys, but he was physically ready and our coaches kept telling me, ‘Put him in.'”
While it was only Week Two, it was clear the win had a huge impact on Bartoszek, an all-state tight end during his days playing for Whitcher.
“There wasn’t a huge rah-rah speech before, there wasn’t a huge rah-rah speech after,” Bartoszek said. “That was believing. These guys can play. They have to believe in themselves. Physically, we have it. Now, I think we’re getting the belief part.”
And it was Isaac who didn’t shrink from the moment when it would have been understandable if he had.
“He just did that against the premiere program in (Section VI) Class C right now,” Bartoszek said.
A Class D school last year, the Warriors were bumped up a class this season and are 2-0 overall and 1-0 in Class C South heading into this Friday’s game against Allegany-Limestone.
“It’s special all around,” Bartoszek said. “I just had a feeling tonight. Everything was perfect except for (Hoag) going down. What a great night. We were all over the place. It was a special atmosphere. It was hard to soak it in (during the game), but now it’s fun.”
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As Whitcher was being driven around the field at halftime, Bartoszek paid tribute to his former coach in the form of a video message on the state-of-the-art scoreboard.
For those needing a reminder, Whitcher roamed the sidelines at Veterans Park for 25 years from 1974-98, during which Salamanca went 167-56-4 and appeared in 14 sectional championship games, winning nine.
While it’s premature to even talk about the 2021 postseason before the calendar hits mid-September, Bartoszek likes what’s happening at his alma mater.
“Right now,” he said, “the sky’s the limit.”
SCOTT KINDBERG - Sports Editor