Salamanca resolve leads to another league crown
By J.P. BUTLER, Olean Times Herald
Its turning point, for the good, may have actually come in what was otherwise a bad showing.
Prior to Week 6, the Salamanca football team hadn’t needed — or displayed — much of the resolve for which it strives. In Week 1, it was within 7-0 at halftime of Franklinville/Ellicottville, but surrendered the next 18 points in an eventual 25-15 loss, an outcome that the Warriors didn’t handle particularly well, coach Chad Bartoszek recently noted.
“I think we lost a little bit of our character that game,” he said reflectively. “We frayed a little bit.”
Over the next four weeks, Salamanca almost had it too easy, dispatching four league opponents by an average of 26 points per game. It didn’t face much adversity, but it had still weathered a slew of injuries, including those to returning Big 30 all-star Tayoni Galante and quarterback Maddox Isaac, and did its best to build the kind of real fortitude it would ultimately need.
Salamanca’s Lucus Brown (2) attempts to avoid a tackle from Portville/Cuba-Rushford’s Brenton Ahrens (3) in a Section 6 Class C South league game on Friday in Portville. (Jerry Trass/Olean Times Herald)
And it found that fortitude in the unlikeliest of places: A 37-6 loss to Class D power Clymer/Sherman/Panama.
“We got smacked up pretty good,” Bartoszek acknowledged. “But I’ll tell you what … we didn’t fray. We stuck together, we continued to fight even though we were dealing with a bunch of injuries in that game too. We handled it in terms of our mentality.
“That might have been the game there that we needed. There’s not much (you can say) about losses, but you gotta learn from them, and I think this group did that.”
THE NEXT two weeks served as proof. With a razor-thin margin for error, Salamanca earned a gutsy 14-7 overtime win over Southwestern, a game in which it scored on the final play of regulation to force the extra session, then ground out an 8-7 triumph over Portville, taking down the two teams with whom it sat atop the Section 6 Class C South standings for much of the fall.
The Warriors did this despite being without 3-4 starters in a handful of games. They arrived at this point despite having to shuffle and re-shuffle its lineup throughout the year. And they traveled this path mostly without Galante, who returned versus Southwestern only to log just a handful of plays before, cruelly, suffering another injury, this one a likely season-ender. And it’s led them here:
To back-to-back league championships for the first time since the early 2000s and the South’s top seed in the upcoming playoffs.
“What happened was, our team was able to adjust,” Bartoszek said. “But it took time. We never seemed to have a full group. But none of that is anything that we emphasized or even talked much about because teams deal with that all the time; that’s football and there’s going to be injuries.
“We just really focused on trying to improve our depth. Who’s gonna be where? What’s gonna be our best lineup for what we had week-to-week. And to be honest, it’s still ongoing.”
BETWEEN INJURIES and internal struggles, Salamanca was something of a question mark in early September. Even Bartoszek was unsure of which direction his team would ultimately go. But by year’s end, it very much knew what it was made of.
The Warriors played one of the tougher schedules in the area, taking on not just a loaded ‘C’ South schedule, but two of the top Class D teams in the state (C/S/P and F/E) for its non-league contests. Their last three games were an unforgiving gauntlet of C/S/P, Southwestern and Portville/Cuba-Rushford, teams that finished the regular season a combined 20-4.
And still, while mostly short-handed, Salamanca went unbeaten in league play (6-0) en route to a solid 6-2 overall.
“It’s not easy to find a groove when you’re facing teams like this,” Bartoszek noted. “But we’re fortunate to be winning, and those wins build other areas, such as character and just team togetherness. But it’s not an easy process.”
Though it does, he agreed, say an awful lot about his team’s ability to overcome.
“THE THINGS that we’re learning now, I hope, are things we don’t really have to talk too much about,” he said. They’re learning through action and tough, close, hard-fought games. They build positive character traits. It’s just … it’s been stressful, and it’s been hard at times.”
The Warriors, in part, are playing for Galante (“It was tough to see for him,” Bartoszek said. “Senior year, he was on the cover of the Big 30 preview. He was a potential Player of the Year candidate).”
They had just about everybody else back for the Portville game and are near full health entering Friday’s matchup with Cleveland Hill. They’ve been tested. They feel good about the depth they’ve created as a result of those injuries.
Now, they yearn to take the next step.
“We have to win these games when they matter the most,” Bartoszek maintained. “As much as I love a second-year title, as much as I’m proud of these kids, they know this is not the end-game for them, this is not the pinnacle.
“Winning this week against Cleve Hill and just getting a shot to get a play-in game to The Ralph is where our mind is and we’re going to have to make these plays all over again.”