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Tonawanda rivals were dynamite Cassata starred for Warriors

The Buffalo News is celebrating the 50th anniversary of All-Western New York football with an all-time All-WNY team which will be published later this season. Along the way, The News will look back at the best of various eras.


Why is the T-NT rivalry such a big deal, regardless of the fortunes of both programs?

A look at the best of the best from the era 1962-65 illustrates it perfectly.

When Tonawanda began preparing for its '63 schedule, it had been 39 years since the Warriors' last perfect season. But quarterback Rick Cassata, who went on to much bigger and better things, and tackle Larry Bodie -- who later played at Miami (Fla.) -- put an end to that streak.

Cassata was rated as one of the nation's top college prospects after throwing 15 touchdown passes as a senior, completing 47 of 94 for 804 yards. He could throw the football 60 yards in the air and was also a threat with his feet, averaging 5.5 yards per rush.

Cassata, who was part of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame's Class of 2002, was also a baseball standout, having won the Niagara Frontier League's batting championship as a junior before becoming an All-WNY selection as a hard-throwing senior pitcher/shortstop.

"Rick Cassata is the best athlete to ever come out of Tonawanda," said Larry Magaris, who played for the Warriors from 1962-64. "Football, basketball, baseball, swim, boxing, pocket billiards, he could do it all. There haven't been a lot quarterbacks who could throw a football like Rick. I would play catch with him and I would swear he was going to throw the ball through you. In gym class we had some physical fitness test and one part of it was the softball throw. I saw Rick throw a softball 302 feet."

Cassata was the object of many a baseball scout's affections before deciding to play football at Syracuse University, where he played with Larry Csonka and Floyd Little, fired 14 touchdown passes from 1965-67 and played in the 1966 Gator Bowl and '67 Hula Bowl. Cassata outplayed Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban of UCLA and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Hula Bowl, then went north to Canada, where he helped the Ottawa Rough Riders capture the 1973 Grey Cup to highlight a nine-year CFL career.

In between SU and the CFL, Cassata threw for 508 yards, on 25 of 46 with three touchdowns, in a 1970 semipro game for the Newark (N.J.) Jays. That was a single-game yardage record that survived for 29 years.

Cassata also put in a year with the World Football League's Hawaiians, in 1975, where Washington's Sonny Sixkiller and future New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel were the other QBs on a team that finished 4-7.

Back in 1963, Tonawanda coach Clinton Small, for whom the stadium in which the Warriors still play their home games was named, called Bodie "the best interior lineman Tonawanda ever produced."

Rick Rowley, who scored a then Niagara Frontier League-record 20 touchdowns and rushed for 667 yards on 100 carries, also represented the Warriors as a back on the '62 team. He went on to Cornell, where he suffered a knee injury, and became an eye surgeon.

Not to be outdone, rival North Tonawanda had a total of four first-teamers on the 11-man squads during this era -- center Dave Anastasi in 1962, tackle Bob Stoltman in '64, and center Craig Nebelecky and quarterback Fred Wiechec in '65, when the Lumberjacks won their 13th NFL championship in 29 years under coach George Vetter.

Stoltman, who played at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, was also a record-setting discus thrower and used his size to his advantage. "Bob's a candid example of why a good big man is better than a good little man," Vetter said. "He has the size and can really move."

Nebelecky's job was to protect Wiechec, who scored 85 points as a senior out of the single wing, directing the offense from a traditional running back setup.

Tonawanda won two T-NT games during this era, prevailing in 1963 by 25-6 and winning 14-7 in '64. NT won a battle of unbeatens, 13-7, in a snowstorm in '62 and the '65 game ended in a 14-14 tie.

Lew-Port's Gary Moeller was a first-teamer in 1963 and '64, at the time becoming just the third player to be so honored in multiple years. The shifty halfback led the Lancers to a 5-3 record as a junior with 845 rushing and 200 passing yards to go along with 10 TDs, then despite missing 2 1/2 of his team's eight games as a senior, rushed for 574 yards and had 292 yards on just 10 receptions, while scoring seven TDs. At the time, scouts lauded his constant forward motion and bulling power.

Nichols was a powerhouse thanks to runners like fullback Mike Quinlan, a first-teamer in 1962, and halfback W. Grant Hennigar, who made the squad in '65.

Quinlan carried 103 times for 1,018 yards and scored 10 touchdowns -- five from more than 50 yards away -- as a senior. His rushing total established a school record for one season that stood for 27 years. Quinlan rushed for 150 yards and the lone TD in a 7-0 victory over St. Joe's.

Hennigar was the scoring champion of the Interstate Prep School League with 84 points, including 13 TDs, leading Nichols to its first IPSL title in 16 years. Six of his touchdowns that senior season came from more than 50 yards out.

The quarterback on that '65 team All-WNY team was Timon's Paul Fitzpatrick, the same guy who went on to post a 161-84-5 career record in 28 years as a head coach at his alma mater. As a senior, he threw an 11-yard scoring pass that defeated Cardinal Dougherty, 6-0, and scored all but one of his school's points in a 14-13 triumph over St. Joe's in the Tigers' 5-1-2 season.

Canisius ruled the Burke Division of the Monsignor Martin Association with perfect seasons in 1962 and '63. Charley Kuhn was an end on the '63 team and caught seven touchdown passes. Crusaders guard Bill Ralyea did the lion's share of the blocking for the area's most powerful running attack and was the largest man on the '63 team at 220 pounds.

First-team quarterback Matt Ganey and tackle Matt Paske led St. Joe's to an 8-0 finish in 1964. Ganey compiled 1,238 total yards that season and was well-protected by Paske, of whom coach Tom Reddington said, "If I had one play in which important yardage was needed, I'd run it over Matty every time."

Bishop Duffy of Niagara Falls went 7-1 that year behind end Ed Nowicki, a superior blocker on offense and sure tackler on defense.

Kenmore West's Paul Yakapovich, the son of legendary Blue Devils coach Jules Yakapovich, was a first-team guard in 1965. He led his team in tackles every game as a senior and was the second Kenmore West All-WNY selection, following in the footsteps of current Buffalo Bills offensive line coach Jim McNally, who made it in '60.

Kenmore East placed center Gary Dean in 1963 and guard Greg Walters in '64. Both went on to the University at Buffalo.

Next: Former News columnist Larry Felser takes a look at 1958-61.


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