Ross, Isaac shine in emotional Salamanca victory
By SAM WILSON Special to the Press
With the Salamanca community in mourning, its football team gave the Veterans Memorial Park crowd something to smile about.
Before Saturday night’s Section 6 Class C South game against Falconer/Cassadaga Valley/Maple Grove, a video tribute narrated by Warriors coach Chad Bartoszek memorialized Darren Ross, a star athlete in the 1990s and a beloved member of the community, who worked with many children as a teacher, social worker and coach who died Wednesday after a more than four-year battle with Glioblastoma brain cancer.
After the memorial, during a moment of silence, the Salamanca players raised their helmets and coaches raised their caps to recognize the Ross family in the bleachers.
Jaxson Ross (12) throws a touchdown pass late in the game Saturday night against Falconer/Cassadaga Valley/Maple Grove in Salamanca. Ross had a touchdown pass and run in a 25-7 victory over the Herd. (Derek Gumtow)
Emotions were high, but the Warriors had a game to play. That included Jaxson Ross, Darren’s son, a senior quarterback and linebacker. Ross shined on the field, subbing in and out with fellow QB Maddox Isaac, with both throwing a passing touchdown and scoring a rushing touchdown in a 25-7 victory over the Herd.
Bartoszek first seemed lost for words after the win: “That’s special. That’s special. Holy cow.”
In football terms, Bartoszek said “we played a pretty good game.”
“That was pretty good Salamanca football,” he said. “That’s a good team we just played, and we came out in the first half and we were just uber-aggressive and physical and making plays. Really that’s the type of Warrior football that I envision, and I think our defensive coaches.”
But from the emotional side, Bartoszek said he’s never before experienced something like last week. He and his staff were careful to make sure Jaxson was ready to rejoin the team later in the week and play on Saturday.
“First and foremost, it was ‘Are you good with this? Are you ready to play football?’ And it was a resounding yes,” Bartoszek said. “He needed a couple days this week to breathe and get his head right, but when he came back Thursday, he wanted this to be his safe space. So we didn’t hit it too much. We didn’t use it as the motivator. I think we all just felt it. There wasn’t a big ‘Win one for Darren’ speech. We just knew it. We just felt it and (Jaxson) wanted to be here and he felt comfortable here. That was most important.
“And then, man, you saw him on the field. You see what he’s got and what he has inside of him. A mix of him and Maddox; Maddox gets touchdowns called back so Jaxson goes down and answers. I just said, ‘Anyone who says football isn’t special, isn’t magical, man, this is proof tonight.’ It just brings something out of everybody. I’m just proud to be here and proud I’ve got a little piece of this.”
After stopping the Herd’s opening drive on fourth down just past midfield, Salamanca scored on its first drive, capped by a 24-yard third-down pass from Isaac to Lucus Brown. A three-and-out forced a Herd punt but a botched snap put the Warriors at the 6-yard line, allowing Ross to punch in a 6-yard touchdown on the first play for a two-score lead (12-0) at the end of the first quarter.
Forcing another punt, Salamanca made it 3-for-3 on scoring drives; a trick play saw receiver Arlen Newark throw a 38-yard pass to Brown, setting up a one-yard touchdown sneak by Isaac for an 18-0 lead. The Warriors thought they scored a fourth first-half touchdown multiple times, but three times had a would-be score called back for holding penalties. Instead, Salamanca led 18-0 at halftime.
The Herd threatened to come back in the second half, scoring on its first drive — a 4-yard pass from Lucas Sopak to Bradyn Fuller — but did not score again. A fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Ross to Brown put the finishing touches on the Warriors’ win.
Brown made four catches for a team-leading 75 yards and two touchdowns, with Newark catching two for 30. Isaac (10 carries, 49 yards) and J.T. Auman (10 carries, 48 yards) led the running game.
The win puts Salamanca (2-1, 2-0) in a tie with Southwestern atop the jumbled C South standings — which Bartoszek called “chaos” — with Portville/Cuba-Rushford and the Herd a game behind at 1-1.
For F/CV/MG, Charlie Reichenbach ran nine times for 43 yards and Roger Markham had seven for 35. Sopak was 8-for-14 passing for 40 yards.
On defense, Zach Trietley made a team-best 12 tackles, eight solo, with one sack and Warrick Kyler made two sacks. Cory Holleran (seven tackles) and Auman both produced turnovers with interceptions.
Bartoszek gave Trietley, who wears No. 44 — Darren Ross’ high school number — a big hug.
“He did it right tonight,” he said. “He did it right.”
After snagging an interception on a would-be Herd scoring drive in the fourth, Auman led the way on Salamanca’s final scoring drive.
“Offensively, if we’re able to accumulate first downs, we’re going to be explosive and we’re going to be tough to defend. We saw a little bit of that,” Bartoszek said. “You get into a rhythm and we’re just tough to deal with. Our run game’s got some work to do. J.T. Auman, I’m so proud of him that last drive. A little bit of gut-check time. He got the pick and someone from the booth said, ‘You know what? He might be fired up enough to take this drive home’ and we ran him about six times that last drive.”
The Warriors are full of players and coaches who are close to the Ross family. Bartoszek credited the players for giving the staff a lift in energy this week.
“We’re tight. Everybody in this community is tight,” he said. “Others have experienced loss and we’ve been through it together. We know what our role is and this one just hit me a little different because of my relationship with Darren. So it was hard for me to be a leader at times. But that’s what we do … we’ve got to be the coaches, the leaders. There were times we’d come out to the field and we didn’t feel like practicing. The kids actually kind of lifted us up, ‘Wait a second. They’re ready to practice, alright let’s go, we can do this.’”
Falconer/CV/MG 0 0 7 0 — 7
Salamanca 12 6 0 7 — 25
Salamanca — Lucus Brown 24 pass from Maddox Isaac (6 plays, 57 yards); run failed, 6-0 Salamanca — Jaxson Ross 6 run (1 play, 6 yards after botched punt); pass failed, 12-0
Salamanca — Isaac 1 run (6 plays, 62 yards); run failed, 18-0
Falconer/Cassadaga Valley/Maple Grove — Bradyn Fuller 11 pass from Lucas Sopak (7 plays, 46 yards after turnover on downs); Rider Carlson kick, 18-7
Salamanca — Brown 7 pass from Ross (12 plays, 46 yards after J.T. Auman interception); Arlen Newark kick, 25-7