Senior backs Rhakeem Wiggins and Pete Westbrooks justifiably receive most of the plaudits at Cleveland Hill.
But the Golden Eagles used more than just a 1-2 punch to overwhelm St. Mary's of Lancaster, 57-12, on Saturday afternoon. Give much of the credit to thunder and lightning -- junior fullback/linebacker Ron Lawrence and senior wide receiver/strong safety Kevin Washington.
Lawrence, who is 6-foot, 230 pounds, is the thunder. He was knocking people down or running through them all afternoon for the 5-0 Eagles, who are the defending Section VI Class C champions and No. 2 in The Buffalo News' small school poll.
Lightning is Washington, who is 5-8 and 155. He was busy running past and around potential Lancers tacklers on homecoming day in Cheektowaga.
"He's so fast coming off the corner," Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham said of Washington, who blocked a punt, returned three kickoffs for 119 yards (including a 79-yard score to begin the second half), caught one pass for 53 yards and made a key interception.
"The long ball was huge for us because I think it was very much in question at that point," said Graham, referring to the pass reception late in the second quarter that immediately preceded Wiggins' 10-yard scoring run. "It really helped us set up that score before the half."
By intermission, the Golden Eagles were in breeze mode, ahead by 37-0.
That's because Washington picked off St. Mary's quarterback Brandon Barczak at his own 1 with the Lancers behind, 16-0, but driving for what could have potentially cut Cleveland Hill's lead in half.
"It's all having an instinct for the ball and practice, practice, practice," said Washington. "You have to have the need and the want to go get it."
Lawrence paved the way for Cleveland Hill's first two touchdowns, 1- and 2-yard runs by Westbrooks. On both runs to the right side, Lawrence wiped out potential Lancers tacklers, clearing large openings for Westbrook.
"It's always good to have size in the backfield," Wiggins said with a wide smile.
Later, Lawrence scored on a 1-yard blast of his own up the middle and in the second half pounded Barczak with a punishing tackle after the quarterback had momentarily eluded pressure.
"He's doing an excellent job and he's worked so hard," Graham said of Lawrence. "He came up from the JV team last year and played a lot for us in the playoff stretch. It's an extra benefit having a 230-pound fullback back there. He can be very physical. If there's not a hole a lot of times he can make it if you get him just a bit of daylight. It's a good thing for our backs to run behind him."
Wiggins, who carried 10 times for 94 yards, now has 691 yards on 57 attempts this season with nine rushing touchdowns. He arrived at the field 25 minutes before kickoff after taking his SATs, but received a well-earned rest in the second half.
"For him to be as focused as he was shows some of the material he's got," said Graham, whose Golden Eagles atoned for last season's 21-20 loss to St. Mary's.
Graham says he has received several inquires regarding Wiggins, whose slick first step appeared to mesmerize the St. Mary's defenders all afternoon.
"I-AA schools are asking about him, the New Hampshires and the Albanys and places like that," said Graham, whose team plays ay Roy-Hart Friday night before the traditional rivalry game against JFK to close the regular season.
"They have a very serious interest in him right now, and [so do] a couple of Ivy League schools because he's a very good student. I think he'll wind up helping somebody's program down the line. He could be a QB [in college], he doesn't throw the ball badly. Some coaches like them a little taller [than 5-11] but I've been telling coaches he's an athlete and there's a lot of places you could put him, maybe in a slash role for an inventive offensive coordinator at the next level."
The Cleveland Hill defense was as dominant as the offense, especially when the outcome was still in doubt. St. Mary's had 17 carries for 16 yards at halftime and seven Lancers plays resulted in negative yardage during the first 24 minutes.
"Our big thing is that we're looking to take steps forward and we took a big step today," said Graham. "We just kind of got it rolling today and it went from there."