Orchard Park bookended its Section VI season with wins over North Tonawanda, and the clock hasn't struck midnight on the Quakers' year yet.
Andy Pace ran for two touchdowns and Orchard Park's line dominated as the Quakers beat NT, 14-7, for the Class AA football championship Friday night in Ralph Wilson Stadium. A late-night crowd of about 2,000 -- the game started at 10 p.m. and finished at 11:50 -- saw OP win its seventh sectional title by beating a Lumberjacks team it defeated, 22-16, in the year's first game.
"Our kids just played great," said OP coach Gene Tundo. "We played great defense the whole game, and our offensive line gets a lot of credit. This is awesome. I just can't explain it."
Pace, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior, had 148 yards on 31 carries for OP, which will return to The Ralph to play the Section V champion in the Far West Regionals next Saturday at 7 p.m. Pace's 8-yard run gave Orchard Park a 7-0 lead with 6:12 left in the second quarter, and he added a 1-yard score with 3:51 left in the third.
Orchard Park, making its fourth straight appearance in the championship game, won its first title since 2001 by making space for Pace and consistently stuffing the NT rushing attack. OP was particularly effective containing sophomore quarterback Scott Gregson (19 carries, 123 yards), whose legs carried him into NT's starting QB spot in Week Three.
OP took the lead by finishing a nine-play, 74-yard drive with an 8-yard run by Pace.
NT struggled in the first half, earning its first first down just 6:02 before halftime after two drives ended with fumbles. NT made a late rush on a drive led by senior Matt Scalice (an outstanding linebacker who started the season as NT's QB), who hit Trabes Traber with a 34-yard pass to move the Jacks to the OP 10. However, a sack by OP junior Cory Anderson pushed the Jacks back and a 31-yard field goal attempt by Nick Fetterman was well short.
North Tonawanda started the second half with a nice drive behind Gregson, who ran on six of the seven plays, including a 31-yard run to the OP 29. But on fourth-and-1 at the OP 20, seniors Jeremy Phillips and Jordan Jachimowicz stuffed Gregson's keeper to the right to give the Quakers the ball at their 20. OP responded with a nine-play drive that included two first-down runs by Pace, and junior Matt Ciambella's 38-yard pass to Jachimowicz. Pace capped the drive with his 1-yard score and OP took a 14-0 lead.
NT cut the lead in half on a 25-yard pass play from Gregson to Bill Cheehan with 4:25 to play, but OP used up a lot of clock on its next drive thanks to third-down conversion runs by Jordan Kellerman (1 yard on third-and-1) and Pace (13 yards on third-and-7).
NT, which finished 8-2, took over with 1:12 to play, but was knocked back when Randy Surface sacked Scalice. On the final play of the game, a second-and-10 at the NT 45, Scalice was flushed out of the pocket by senior Jason Weber and he was brought down near the left sideline at the OP 27 by senior Timisolo Oshikanlu.
Orchard Park (9-1), whose only loss came in Week Six to Lancaster, will play either Webster Thomas (9-0) or East High (9-0) in the regionals. The Section V Class AA final is at 4 p.m. today at the University of Rochester.
"We always come out and play our best games at the end of the season," Pace said. "This team can do anything if it puts their mind to it."