Salamanca rallies for thrilling shootout victory over Fredonia
Sam Wilson, Salamanca Press
FREDONIA — At the midpoint of the high school football regular season, the Salamanca football team faced a test to see just how far it’s come since Week 1.
Rolling into Fredonia’s Orange Bowl at 2-1 to face the undefeated Hillbillies, the Warriors also had a chance to avenge their lone regular season loss from last season: a 42-19 setback at home against the eventual 2021 division champions. And on Friday night, the Warriors returned the favor, giving Fredonia its first loss in a Section 6 Class C South thriller.
The Warriors rallied out of a 10-point deficit in the first half to knock off Fredonia in a 40-30 shootout.
Salamanca made its impact on the ground with 300 rushing yards to Fredonia’s 49, while the Hillbillies threw for 309 yards to Salamanca’s 101.
“That game had a feel of four quarters the entire way,” Salamanca coach Chad Bartoszek said. “That game had a feel. Fredonia's a great team over there. It wasn't going to be won on our first touchdown or their first touchdown. It's hard not to get emotionally high, and it's even harder not to let the lows get to you. It just felt like that was one of those last-possession games. A lot of that is just a credit to who Fredonia is and our offense was clicking a little bit today.”
TRAILING 17-7 midway through the second quarter, Salamanca responded to a Fredonia field goal with a nine-play, 67 yard drive that included a 23-yard run on fourth and 12 from its own 31. Lined up for a punt, Jaxson Ross fielded the snap, took a step to the right for a roll-out punt and saw a clear path, taking off down the Warriors’ sideline. Jesse Stahlman’s 3-yard run cut the lead to 17-14 and the Warriors made a fourth-down stop at their own 6-yard line with under a minute to play in the half to keep it a one-score game.
“I think the difference in where we are now and Week 1,” Bartoszek said of the fourth-down stop. “I don't think they realized how significant those plays were. It was like, 'ah crap, we're backed up, let's just let 'em in, we'll go back (to halftime).' We didn't have that mentality tonight, not on our extra points even though we missed the last one. But we finished things. And those points creep up on you. A field goal, stop, puts them in the one-score range if they punt that in down here. So these guys are just developing. They're learning. We came in knowing we had a younger leadership team. We graduated a lot of guys, so they're learning and boy, they've got potential.”
In the second half, the Warriors scored on their first four drives, storming out to a 40-24 lead. Just as crucially, while they didn’t completely shut down Fredonia’s passing game — speedy wideout Keegan Whitfield burned the Warriors for a 75-yard touchdown, his second score of the game — they put pressure on Hillbillies quarterback Ethan Fry often enough to disrupt his rhythm.
SALAMANCA running back Jesse Stahlman and quarterback Maddox Isaac made for a thunder-and-lightning rushing combination. Stahlman took 20 carries for 145 yards and three touchdowns, with a long of 58, while Isaac finished with 78 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. Without two sacks counted against him, Isaac had roughly 100 yards of his own, including a 74-yard burst in the first quarter for the Warriors’ first touchdown.
Stahlman also threw a touchdown pass, a 31-yard left-handed lob to Carmine Hoag on a direct snap.
Fry was 15-of-32 for 309 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Hillbillies (3-1).
Fredonia cut the lead to 40-30 in the fourth quarter, but a two-point conversion stop kept it a one-score game. Later, Fredonia threatened again, but an interception from Tayoni Galate on a throw from the Warriors’ 11 sealed the game and allowed the Warriors to kneel out the clock.
Stahlman made a team-high eight tackles including two for loss and one sack. Jaxon Tarr had 6.5 tackles and Quinton Jones also made a sack.
“Coach (Aaron) Hill, coach (Paul) Furlong, our D-coordinators just do so much with our defense,” Bartoszek said. “It's amazing how they're trying to scheme up and it is difficult to play a spread team that can throw the ball well and then run the ball well, left and right, up the middle. And a couple of those plays were just great plays by great athletes. You're going to have those games. Not every game's a dog fight, old school Class C football.
“This was kind of exciting, I'm sure it was pretty fun to watch, it was fun to coach but it was hard especially toward the end there, coach Hill's calling defense and I'm like ‘Oh my gosh, what are we doing here? How are we going to end this thing?’ He's got his hand on the pulse of that ‘D’ so he knows what our strengths and weaknesses are.”
Fredonia coach Greg Sherlock lamented a lack of defensive discipline on many of Salamanca’s big plays.
“Our key word this week was discipline, staying home. And they caught us. They caught us being so undisciplined,” Sherlock said. “Hitting outside and we went over this all week long. I thought we did well up front in the middle of the field but they were getting outside of us and that's something we worked on all week long, thought we had it covered and letting up that trick play, that's a discipline play too. It's a kid that thought he was going to come up, didn't have to but he just let the kid go. Did we expect that? Absolutely.
“In that instance, maybe we didn't coach good enough, I don't know. We've got to do a better job, kids have to listen better, but I liked the character in the fourth quarter, how we came back and we fought the rest of the way. That says a lot about a high school team.”
Salamanca aims to wear down opposing defenses with Stahlman’s hard running behind strong line play. But it took some creativity on Friday to get Stahlman, Isaac and the rest of the Warriors’ weapons in space.