Warriors football following familiar footsteps
By Spencer Bates, Olean Times Herald
It’s funny how history tends to repeat itself.
The last time the Salamanca football team had made it to the Section 6 final was in the 2001 season. In that game, its starting quarterback was sidelined with a shoulder injury and the backup came in and put on a dazzling performance to win the game. They then moved on to play LeRoy in the Far West Regional.
Some 22 years later, the Warriors found themselves in the Section 6 final for the first time since. Quarterback Maddox Isaac was taken out of the game with a shoulder injury and Jaxson Ross came in and helped lift the Warriors to victory at Highmark Stadium. Now, they move on to play LeRoy in the Far West Regional.
A near identical run series of events, one that does not go unnoticed by the last Salamanca coach to face a LeRoy team, Rich Morton.
Morton was at the helm of the 1999 and 2001 Salamanca teams that defeated LeRoy twice in the Far West Regional to get to the state tournament, in ‘99 falling just short in the state final and in ‘01 suffering defeat in the semifinal. In attendance for Salamanca’s first trip to the former Ralph Wilson Stadium since he was calling the plays, Morton was well aware of the similarities between his state title challenging teams and the one now headed by Chad Bartoszek.
(Photos Courtesy, LeRoyFootball.com)
“That’s the same kind of comparison that I would say that I saw in our kids back in those days,” Morton said. “We were playing with the same kind of attitude and drive that these kids had. I hadn’t seen that kind of determination in this team (in a long time).
Morton recalled his ‘01 team’s depth as one of the main reasons behind the amount of success that they had, especially in the backfield. Dubbed “The Four Horsemen” Cameron Haines, Dustin Ross, Derrick Murphy, and Mike Liberatore were just some of the names that popped into the mind of Morton.
“We had just great talent that year,” he said. “Our backfield I felt was second to nobody. We just had some outstanding kids. Our line was unbelievable and all our skill positions, everybody we had. We were just so balanced in every area.”
Depth has been more than an asset for Bartoszek’s Warriors this season as well. Jaxson Ross and Maddox Isaac at quarterback, Lucus Brown and Arlen Newark as receivers and Joshua Auman and fullback Zach Trietley in the backfield. The Warriors have had players all over the field this season.
This year’s Warriors team faced an undefeated team in Medina in the Section 6 final. The Mustangs had not conceded a point to any opposition throughout its entire playoff run. Salamanca went and put 36 of its own on the board in the win. Once again dazzled by what he saw on the field at the stadium, Morton had nothing but compliments and words of encouragement for Bartoszek after the game.
“I even said to Chad (Bartoszek), that these kids are peaking at the right time and if your team plays the way they did (against Medina), LeRoy’s in trouble,” he said.
Morton remembers that the first time he saw LeRoy in ‘99 they were a physical team through and through. They would always get the last hit and did their best to get under the skin of opponents. With that knowledge, it was up to the coaches to get the Warriors mentally prepared to go four quarters against that team.
“Our kids took no heat from them,” he said. “They just played very physical and after the plays were over, they defended themselves. I told him that we need to get the last word and not them.”
They did in fact get the last word as they left Rochester with a 22-13 win. Flash forward two years later, Morton remembers that LeRoy team being far less aggressive than the one that squared off against his team before. This is where the confidence of his stacked roster, the one he saw resembled in the play of this year’s Warriors, came into play.
“The confidence that these kids had, the ‘never give up’ attitude,” Morton said. “If you were going to defeat us, you’re going to have to beat us every second of that game right until the very end because these kids had too much time and work and effort that they put in during the year to not achieve what they set out to do.”
The second time around, Salamanca took down LeRoy once again, this time by a score of 28-23, a moment in history that Morton hopes resonates with this current group of players.
“We got by that hurdle back in those days,” Morton said. “So fast forwarding to now, the kids are thinking they know that they can beat them. It’s achievable, as we’ve done before. And they can do it again.”
Again they will try as Salamanca now prepares to take on LeRoy 22 years removed from the last meeting. Morton believes the game will come down to “who makes the fewest mistakes.”
And at the risk of “not getting ahead of ourselves,” Morton believes that Salamanca has a good shot at making history by grabbing the first ever state title, the one his team came so close to over two decades ago: as long as they can conquer the “tough road” before them.
The winner of Saturday’s Far West regional can start to dream a little bigger, playing in a semifinal next weekend at Cicero-North Syracuse for the chance to make the state championship game at JMA Wireless Dome (the former Carrier Dome).