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Warriors ride fast start to a trip to ‘the Ralph’

By SPENCER BATES, Olean Times Herald

It has been a long 22 years, but the Warriors will make their triumphant return to Highmark Stadium for the first time since 2001.

In a rematch of the regular season finale, the score was finally settled between the Salamanca football team and Portville/Cuba-Rushford in a Section 6 Class C semifinal. Winning 35-24, the Warriors staved off a second-half comeback from the Panthers to punch their ticket into the final.

As the Warriors took the field, coach Chad Bartoszek saw a glimmer in his player’s eyes. With the chance to return to the stadium, rewrite the script and do it all in front of their own fans he knew the game was going to be special.

“I just felt a vibe from the team,” he said. “They had focus all week and even before the game, you could tell with these kids (and the look) in their eyes.”

The focus all proved worth it as the Warriors win was not only enough to get the fans and players energized, but it was also enough to bring Bartoszek out of “business mode” as he jumped into the celebration huddle with his team after the game. While admittedly a rare sight, that is how much the win means to him and the program.

“There’s just so much meaning behind the Ralph and Salamanca football, it’s just everything,” Bartoszek said. “I’ve coached there and played there, but these guys haven’t and I am just so happy for them that they get this experience and that’s what the emotion is.”

As prepared as they could have been, the most crucial part of the Warriors’ game was the start as they jumped out to an early 14-point lead. The first touchdown set the tone for the rest of the first half as starting quarterback Maddox Isaac took a run 79 yards to the house untouched. The second was a nine yard dash from Joshua Auman.

“The start was a very important piece,” Bartoszek said. “Portville showed what they can do at the end (of the game) with their skill set there … But getting them out of what their game plan was early was a huge piece.”

Unfortunately for the Warriors, Isaac missed a majority of the game after taking two big hits. However, the man who replaced proved more than capable of leading the offense. Jaxson Ross had a phenomenal game with three touchdown passes.

“(Isaac and Ross) have stepped in and out for each other,” Bartoszek said. “They are leaders … Jaxon was throwing dimes today. He had (Lucus Brown) to throw to (and) he had just an absolute monster game for us. He just showed today what he can do.”

The wide receiving core was huge in the game for Salamanca as Ross was just about perfect through the air. Lucus Brown, known to his teammates and coaches as “LB” put his stamp all over the game with two touchdowns and an interception on defense. Arlen Newark, on top of being perfect with extra points on the night, had a touchdown and an interception as well. The chemistry was something to witness and According to Ross it all comes down to repetitions, that is what has made this team “a family.”

Salamancas took a 21-0 lead into halftime, however a reenergized Portville team did not take the loss without a fight. After losing Kaedon Holcomb to an injury for most of the game, the Panthers still found a way to make closing the game out that much more difficult for the Warriors. In his halftime speech, coach Josh Brooks galvanized his team and praised them afterwards on their willingness to fight with their backs against the wall.

“The exact thing I said to him at halftime is this second half is really going to tell the true character of our team,” he said. “You can quit or you can battle with everything you have. It was a true testament of our kids. They just kept battling, they knew the odds were stacked against them and they didn’t quit until the final whistle.”

The spark that lit the fire underneath the Panthers was an 83-yard kickoff return scored by Henry Schwartz. The next two touchdowns for Portville/C-R were connections from Sleggs to Ethan Obergfell, with two-point conversions after each Panthers touchdown.

However, it was just too little, too late as Salamanca secured a crucial first down with less than three minutes left on the clock to lock up the game.

For Brooks, it was a “bittersweet” end to the season.

For Bartoszek, this is not where he anticipates his team finishing. Reaching the final is nice, but the Warriors want more.

“This isn’t the top, this isn’t the pinnacle,” he said. “Let’s go and get a blue patch. Let’s go represent on that field. We play that type of football, we’re going to be dangerous.”

Next Friday, Salamanca will face undefeated No. 1 Medina at the Buffalo Bills’ stadium in Orchard Park. The Warriors will be able to do so in front of their friends and families as the school district has given the day off and allocated buses to transport as many as they can take up to the stadium.


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