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Salamanca falls a quarter short in Class C semifinals

Sam Wilson, Salamanca Press

LACKAWANNA — The score remained tied as the clock struck zeroes in the third quarter, but it was already slipping away.

Salamanca led or tied all afternoon in Saturday’s Section 6 Class C football semifinal against Lackawanna and went into the fourth just 12 minutes away from a trip to Highmark Stadium. But by the time the quarter changed over and the teams marched to the other side of the field, the undefeated Steelers had finally started to impose their will.

On the first play of the period, the 16th play of an 81-yard drive, Lackawanna attempted just the second pass of that drive and quarterback Billy Gechell hit receiver Ashlin Alexander-Hall for the go-ahead touchdown, 12-6. The Steelers controlled the final frame, scoring two more times on short fields after big stops, beating Salamanca 24-6.

(Quarterback, Maddox Isaac breaks loose for a 72 yard touchdown in the 1st quarter)

“They are big and physical and strong up front,” Salamanca coach Chad Bartoszek said. “You've got to create field position and then get them to that second-and-long, third-and-long to get them out of that. You cannot — it's very difficult to — stop that team when they are in four-down territory and I don't know what their fourth down percentage was but I'm remembering two they got fourth down conversions on us that were killers.

“It just felt like we couldn't turn the tide, we couldn't get that momentum going, and I'll find something there to kick myself over ... certain playcalls or things that you could have done. But it is four-quarter football when you get to this game, and they finished and they deserve the credit.”

After Lackawanna took the lead, though there was plenty of time remaining, Bartoszek made the aggressive decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Salamanca 34-yard line. But just as he did the previous down, Lackawanna’s Amir Douglas blew up a quarterback run for a pivotal stop with 10:07 left.

"That was ‘OK, come on guys. Let's flip this,'” Bartoszek said. “Those are the plays that give you some momentum and you can maybe take a shot or two, and obviously it didn't happen. Back-to-back, we went big package, all we needed was a yard, just stymied. (Douglas) made great plays and it's just that close; you get a first down and maybe you get something together, but at that point I wasn't ready to see a punt and then another 10-minute drive. I just wanted to keep that ball in our hands and put us in four-down territory. But it didn't work.”

After another Lackawanna score, Salamanca’s next drive ended even sooner, with a first-down interception by Shyheim Smalls.

Salamanca took the game’s first lead with a 72-yard run by quarterback Maddox Isaac, flashing his big-play speed. But the Warriors finished with 110 rushing yards on 21 attempts, only 20 for 38 aside from their lone touchdown.

Isaac led the offense with 90 total rushing yards, while Lackawanna held him to 4-of-11 passing for 36 yards and a pick. Tayoni Galante earned two of the team’s five first downs with his two catches for 21 yards.

Lackawanna coach Adam Tardif acknowledged a big absence made life easier for the Steelers’ defense as Salamanca tailback Jesse Stahlman missed his second straight game with a knee injury.

“Forty-seven (Stahlman) is an outstanding running back and a big difference in the game if he's in there,” Tardif said. “We said hey, 21 (JT Aumun), 2 (Jason McGraw), 4 (Carmine Hoag), all these kids are good players. Just don't get caught and lulled to sleep, and watch out for 11 (Isaac) but he caught us one time. They're an explosive offense.”

But even trailing in the first quarter, Lackawanna kept its composure. The Steelers tied the game 6-6 midway through the second quarter.

“It goes back to (when) we played Depew early on in the season and everything went wrong in that game and we were down 6-0 most of the game. We ended up coming back and tying it and then going into overtime and winning it,” Tardif said. “So I think we've kind of been there before as a team.”

Jaxon Tarr led the Salamanca defense with 9.5 tackles and Cameron McGraw made six tackles.

Antwan Threeths, a 6-foot-0, 180-pound bruising tailback, led Lackawanna with 105 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Douglas took nine carries for 66 yards and a score while Gechel went 6-for-9 for 49 yards and two touchdowns through the air and scrambled his way to 59 rushing yards on six attempts.

Ending the season 7-3, it was the closest the Warriors have come to Highmark Stadium in Bartoszek’s four years back at his alma mater. Salamanca made the Class D final in the spring 2021 season but it was held at the higher seed due to COVID regulations; but the Warriors have not played at the Bills’ stadium for a final since 2001.

Bartoszek couldn’t hide his disappointment in coming so close — one quarter, really — to the championship game.

“It's the worst feeling in the world,” he said. “There's two feelings: Lackawanna has the best and we're feeling the other. It's 6-6 and it's a quarter and you're trying like heck to turn the tide. We just couldn't turn the tide. Both teams were in the middle of a dogfight and we just needed the play or the first down or the drive and we couldn't get to that play. Obviously the last couple touchdowns opened up the floodgates a little bit, but we were just not able to create the plays that we've made this season and Lackawanna was ready, they were everywhere.

“Initial reaction is always the worst. The latter to this, weeks and months from now, we're going to be pretty proud of what we did.”


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