Salamanca pulls off a snow-filled stunner
PORTVILLE — A lot can change in the span of two weeks.
Back on April 23, the Portville football team ran away with a 54-14 victory over Salamanca, flashing speed all over the field in a dominant second half. But on Sunday, in a Section 6 Class D semifinal and in some crucially different circumstances, the Panthers suffered a stunning upset at the hands of the Warriors, being shut out 6-0.
On a field made increasingly muddier by snow and rain showers, both teams ground to an offensive crawl most of the night. But Salamanca found the drive it needed in the game’s closing minutes.
Using six plays to move 57 yards in just under three minutes of game time, the Warriors punched in the game’s lone touchdown with :54.5 seconds remaining as senior quarterback Lucas McKenna took a shotgun snap to the right of his offensive line, beating the defense to the edge and racing to the end zone.
Second-year Salamanca coach Chad Bartoszek beamed with pride over the win, which sent the Warriors (4-2) to the Section 6 Class D championship game against No. 1 Franklinville/Ellicottville (5-1).
“Just ecstatic for our kids, they played their hearts out tonight,” Bartoszek said. “They gave everything they had and all I just kept thinking was, ‘they’re earning this win tonight.’ You don’t want to use the term ‘deserve,’ but man I was feeling it. They deserved that win. I was so pumped up and I’m just so glad we were able to finally put a drive together offensively because our defense was lights out the whole day, they were everywhere.
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“Perspective-wise, I want these kids to really start believing. This is who they are. This is who they can be.”
MCKENNA ran for a team-high 68 yards on 14 carries.
Salamanca’s stingy defense took three turnovers from the Panthers as Ezra Stahlman, Amos Whitcomb and Tre Turner each recovered a fumble.
Jayden Lassiter had 27 carries for 75 yards with a long of 18 yards for Portville (4-1). He also made a team-high 8.5 tackles (2 for loss). Blake George snagged two interceptions in the first half to deny scoring chances from the Warriors. Jared Zenner and Zander Keim (2 for loss) had eight tackles each.
Portville coach Josh Brooks acknowledged a “perfect storm” that gave the Warriors a chance to avenge that blowout regular season loss.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my kids, they didn’t quit, they kept facing adversity and just kept playing,” Brooks said. “It was a perfect storm, really, for Salamanca. I think Coach Bartoszek had to be pretty happy about the weather. They’re huge up front – they might even be the biggest team in the Big 30 – so we knew they were going to try to ground and pound and we were going to have to stop them.
“We did a really good job until the last minute of the game. We knew it was going to be one play that was going to make a difference. But the field was brutal. A different day or a different location, maybe on turf, I think we all know that game’s a much different game. Maybe nine out of 10 times we beat them, but tonight happened to be that one out of 10 and credit to Coach Bartoszek and his staff (for) having his kids ready to play, and they played hard.”
AFTER being forced to “pause” due to COVID-19 protocols, Portville’s players had not met in person with their coaches since April 27, missing the last week of the regular season. Most of the team exited quarantine just Saturday, so they met Sunday afternoon, hours before the game, for the first time in nearly two weeks. Even on Sunday, Portville had two players still at home as they had not yet cleared quarantine.
“It’s been tough for kids, they’re learning online all day and then they’ve got to get online for practice, just a crazy time,” Brooks said. “We weren’t really sure what to expect. But having that much time off, there’s a reason that teams don’t give their players that much time. It can definitely affect you negatively and I think unfortunately we got the short end of the stick.”
Brooks stressed to his team, especially the 17 seniors, that one loss didn’t change anything about what they accomplished this year.
“Even though we lost, this game doesn’t represent how far this program has come,” Brooks said. “I can’t be more proud of those 17 seniors that wore the jersey tonight.
Salamanca Warriors @ Portville Panthers
Section VI, Class D Semi-Final Broadcast
“Hunter Griffin, in his two years, he never lost a regular season game at quarterback, that’s impressive; he didn’t throw an interception his senior year. Lassiter’s stats are through the roof. Our offensive line was very, very good. They have nothing to be ashamed of and they’ve done so much for this program and the future of this program. I love all those kids and I want them to know how much they mean for the future.”
Despite the final score two weeks ago, Bartoszek believed in his team. If the Warriors could play like they did in the first half of Week 4, when they trailed 13-6, they might have a chance.
“We were dialed in the first time,” Bartoszek said of Week 4. “We really were. That score was evident of how the second half went, but that first half was tight. We really felt good about the gameplan. We didn’t change a ton, we made a couple minor switches. What also affected their speed was obviously the weather. This was a slopfest. Jayden (Lassiter) is as good as there is and he’s as fast as there is and playing in the slop slowed him down a little bit. We were just so persistent tonight, it was unbelievable.”
Salamanca had 57 of its 144 rushing yards on the go-ahead drive.
“We went trips (formation) and ran the other way,” Bartoszek said of the drive. “(It was) nothing really rocket science, but we were tightened down, we were trying to get more and more bodies in and they’re just too good, too big, too fast and physical. So we went spread and we ran away and we were just able to get a couple edges on them is all.
“Honestly, we said it to them at halftime, ‘one of us is going to break a big play,’ that was it. They played just as good a game as we did, we were just the ones who came out on top.”
NOTE: The Panthers held a tribute to a 10-year-old Portville student, Colt Matz, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. Portville’s players all wore orange socks and a No. 45 helmet decal in support of Colt.
Playing on Mother’s Day, both teams ran from the sideline to the bleachers before the game as players each gave flowers to their moms.
Salamanca 0 0 0 6 — 6
Portville 0 0 0 0 — 0