Salamanca survives Portville, claims C South title
By VINNY PEZZIMENTI, Special to the Press
In a game that featured 21 penalties, it was the last one that decided it.
Portville/Cuba-Rushford’s Ethan Coleman’s two-yard run into the endzone with one minute, 22 seconds remaining was erased by a holding call. Salamanca’s defense stopped the Panthers on two ensuing plays and the Warriors prevailed 8-7 on Friday night in an intense, pad-popping defensive struggle that George Whitcher or Gary Swetland surely would have looked fondly upon.
The latest nail-biting victory for Salamanca – it sweated out a 14-7 overtime affair over Southwestern last week – granted the Warriors (6-2, 6-0) the Section 6, Class C South title and home field in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the sectional playoffs.
“These types of games are playoff-level games,” Salamanca coach Chad Bartoszek said. “These last two weeks have been fantastic football games. I look back and I will enjoy the challenges, but man it’s stressful when you’re going through it.”
A triumph by the Panthers (5-2, 4-2) would have created a three-way tie for first among them, Salamanca, and Southwestern – with the champion decided by point differential.
P/C-R certainly had its chances. Three times it drove deep into Salamanca territory with the opportunity to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. But the Panthers first lost a fumble inside the 10, then Coleman’s 21-yard scoring run was called back on a holding penalty, and finally Coleman’s 2-yarder was wiped out.
A Kaeden Holcomb 59-yard dash to the endzone was also taken off the board. That one would have given P/C-R a two-touchdown edge in the second quarter.
Three touchdowns turned to dust.
P/C-R coach Josh Brooks pointed and yelled at members of the officiating crew as they left the field.
“A hold on the one-yard line is a call you don’t see,” he said referring to the final sequence. “That’s all I’m going to say about the penalties.”
“Our kids played great,” Brooks added. “We outplayed them. We outhit them. We played better offensively, defensively, and special teams. I’m pumped about our kids going into the playoffs.”
The Panthers lost 67 yards on nine penalties, and the Warriors 80 on 12 penalties, including a 85-yard scoring pass to Lucus Brown that was called back in the fourth quarter.
“It was a difficult situation at the end I think for both coaches, if you know what I’m talking about,” Bartoszek said.
After Coleman’s 2-yard score was erased, wideout Henry Schwartz gained three yards on a reverse. Facing fourth down from the 8 with no timeouts and the clock running under 40 seconds, the Panthers looked out of sorts for their final play – resulting in a 4-yard loss on a swing pass to Holcomb.
After kneeling out the final 24 seconds, the Warriors celebrated their second consecutive league crown.
“It’s why we do this,” Bartozsek said. “Seeing the kids’ faces, seeing the coaches and parents. This is an experience for both sides. Fortunately, we were able to get the win.”
P/C-R set the game’s tone with a 65-yard, 13 play first drive that ate up 8:22 of the clock and ended with a 5-yard Holcomb touchdown run. The march was kept alive by an 18-yard fake punt pass from Aiden DeFazio to Ethan Obergfell.
A similar fake, however, backfired on the Panthers in the third quarter. Met with a fourth down with less than a yard to go at their own 28, Holcomb was lined up in a punting formation. The snap went to the up man, Coleman, instead, and he was stopped in his tracks.
“You play to win,” Brooks said of the risky call. “We were moving the ball. They made a good play. Credit to them.”
Taking over in scoring position, Salamanca moved 28 yards on seven plays, culminating in Zach Trietley’s 1-yard touchdown run. The Warriors took the lead on a 2-point pass from Jaxson Ross to Lucus Brown.
“That was all about putting a little pressure on them,” Bartoszek said of the conversion. “They were grinding us down a little bit. Those running backs (Holcomb and Coleman) were fantastic. They’re line was getting the push they needed. They’re sound in their game plan. Going for two was just about putting a little pressure on them.”
“The end result is the end result,” Bartoszek said. “How we got here was an experience. These types of games are very hard. They’re very hard to manage offensively and defensively because it’s just a whole bunch of kids flying around pouring their hearts into it. You’re trying to scheme, you’re trying to X and O, but the end result is small. It’s inches.
“That’s a heck of a team,” he added of Portville. “There’s a chance we’re going to see them again.”
Despite the result, Brooks spoke highly of his team, which will open the playoffs on the road against a ‘C’ North foe.
“No one picked us to be here,” he said. “I talked to Chad about that. Really no one picked Salamanca or us. Everyone was talking about Southwestern and Fredonia. I think that shows two good programs that put the work in. We’re happy. We certainly could have been better. Injuries happen. Things happen. Being 6-2, going into the playoffs, and taking the best team in the league down to the final seconds really shows a lot about who we are.”
As for the Warriors, Bartoszek suggested that they still haven’t played their best game. Still, Salamanca reached its goal of hosting a playoff game.
The next marker?
“Trying to get to ‘The Ralph,’” in Orchard Park to play for the section title, Bartoszek concluded.