Football players talk about making sacrifices to reach their goals, but Hutch-Tech will have another kind of sacrifice in mind when it takes the field for Thursday's Harvard Cup championship game.
On Nov. 6, the day the Engineers beat South Park in overtime, Hutch-Tech line coach Michael Hughes was shipped overseas with his Army National Guard unit.
Instead of walking Hutch-Tech's sideline Thursday, Hughes will be a world away in Kuwait, hoping to listen to the game on the Internet. The 101st Harvard Cup game between Tech and Riverside kicks off at 11 a.m. at All High Stadium.
"At first I was kind of sad that he had to leave us," junior lineman Andrew Tarasek said. "But then when you think about what he's doing over there, serving his country and protecting us, you really feel good about him. He's that kind of person."
Hughes, 51, is a sergeant with the 42nd Engineer Brigade out of the Connecticut Street Armory. He's also a Buffalo firefighter with 20 years of service as a reservist. He and his wife, Sherri, have two sons, Kameron, 22, and Daniel, 15.
The game has added meaning for Hughes because he's also a substitute teacher at Riverside.
Hutch-Tech's players are hoping to win their second Cup in four years and dedicate it to Hughes.
"He's not the youngest guy in the world, and he decides to go off and fight for his country," senior end Eiffel Delrosario said. "We told him we're going to win the (Harvard) Cup for him, and hopefully that's what we're going to do."
The Engineers (8-2, 7-1) have the best record in the league. They eliminated two-time defending champion South Park to advance. Senior quarterback Rodney Pierce, who has signed with Rider for basketball, is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
And he's got an impressive supporting cast around him, including junior RB Sammy Smith, WR/DB Greg Cherry, FB/LB Quentin "Captain Crunch" Moore, WB/Brian Burch and OG/LB Tarasek.
Smith was the difference when Tech and Riverside met in the regular season Oct. 23. He scored both Tech touchdowns, including a 93-yard opening kickoff return, in a 14-6 win.
"In the first game, it was a very, very physical game," first-year head coach Dave Backes said. "Sammy's return was kind of stunning. It set the tempo. Riverside is big, they're fast, and (coach Tony Truilizio has) got a lot of weapons on both sides of the ball."
The Frontiers (7-3, 6-2) have made impressive strides under Truilizio, who is in his third year. He inherited a team that went 0-9 in 2001 but has taken it to the playoffs the last two years.
One of Riverside's strengths is its defense. It has given up the fewest points in the league this season (8.5 ppg.) and is a plus-11 in takeaways.
The defensive backfield has 16 interceptions, led by Bryon Corbett with six. LB Robbie Comer leads the team in tackles with 59 followed by DE Hezekiah Williams with 57 and DE Thomas Jordan with 52 (and six sacks). WR Mike Williams has 360 yards in receptions and a team-leading seven touchdowns.
Riverside has two very capable wishbone quarterbacks in senior DiMario Caesar (41 of 93 for 586 yards) and junior Josh Covington (13-32-353).
Truilizio said he hasn't decided who will start. "It will be quarterback by committee," he said. "DiMario is tremendous, but Josh has been on fire, he's hot. I'll just say both quarterbacks will play in the game."
Riverside will be making its first title-game appearance since 1995, a 20-8 loss to McKinley. It played McKinley to a 6-6 tie in the 1994 title game, but hasn't won the Cup outright since 1972. It has won eight Cups in its history.
It will be the final game in the careers of two longtime officials, line judge Chipper Andrzejewski (37 years) and referee Richard Szafran (35). . . . The game can be heard live on WJJL (1440 AM), and via the Internet at www.wjjl.com. . . . Gates open at 10 a.m. Tickets are $3. . . . The Harvard Alumni Club of Buffalo is sponsoring its annual Sportsmanship Dinner tonight at Emerson High School. . . . The last time Riverside and Hutch-Tech met for the Cup was 1967 -- a 13-0 win for the Engineers. . . . There will be plenty of pregame festivities. The ROTC marching unit from Hutch-Tech will present the colors. Buffalo Arts student Griffin Kazmierczak will play Taps and the national anthem on the trumpet. . . . Hutch-Tech's last appearance in the game was a 26-14 loss to South Park in 2002.