So does North Tonawanda think its very impressive win over St. Joe's will show any doubters out there how very good they are?
"We're not really concerned with that -- we're just trying to get better," NT coach Eric Jantzi said after the Lumberjacks had their way with visiting St. Joe's, 42-10, Friday night. "We don't really talk about that stuff. We just get after it."
The Lumberjacks certainly do.
"They're a heck of a team, and we knew that coming in," said St. Joe's coach Bob O'Connor. "They're quick, and they're tough kids. They execute well, they fake very well."
They're definitely a heck of a team. But the dilemma of NT still exists -- they have played fantastic football and utterly dominated their competition. But their competition hasn't consisted of any ranked teams. Based on recent Monsignor Martin play and having seen all three teams play, I wouldn't be surprised if St. Francis and Canisius posted similar victories over St. Joe's.
We shall see. That is the case for NT as well. Next week they will certainly be the favorite over an improved but likely overmatched Tonawanda squad. Then, finally, we'll be able to compare and contrast North Tonawanda with Class AA South teams -- that will be a visit from Jamestown or Clarence in the quarterfinals.
It's not fair to NT, really. Coach Eric Jantzi has built a first-class program, and, for the second straight year, does what more Section VI large school coaches should do and schedules a nonleague game against a Monsignor Martin team. But because St. Joe's is on the young side and isn't expected to challenge Canisius and St. Francis, I'm sitting here wondering if I can move them up on my ballot (I had them at No. 5 this week).
"We're trying to compete against the best teams we can," said Jantzi. "The way we've won in the division, we're a good football team. I think we can play with anyone in Western New York when we play the way we did tonight. I'm proud of the kids and the way they executed, and we're going to try and get better for next week.
"We're trying to push deep into the playoffs. We think we have the ability to play with anybody. We're just trying to improve each week. We're not trying to take our foot off the gas pedal because it's a nonleague game -- and T-NT is certainly the same thing. We just want to compete and get better."
Aaron Davis echoed his coach.
"We want to go far in the playoffs," said the junior, who had an exceptional all-around game. "Last year we didn't make it to The Ralph on a mess-up in the first round of the playoffs [losing at home to Lancaster]. This team is fundamentally sound and we're executing well. I think we can make a run.
"We wanted to play someone out of the league, wanted to play a good team -- we got a chance to
play St. Joe's, and we executed very well and got the job done."
Davis was very effective on defense, defending a few Matt Rosenhahn passes in the first half in addition to the interception return for a touchdown. He was dangerous carrying the ball -- particularly on pitches to the outside -- and he also scored by bursting up the middle on a touchdown reception.
"He's a competitor," Jantzi said of Davis. "He's got instincts for the ball, and he can make people miss when he's running the ball. And if you're going to throw it at him, you're taking a chance because he's got a couple of picks for touchdowns. He's a good athletes and better yet he's a great kid."
Brandon McClinsey was alternately very slippery and very strong running the ball for NT. Defensively, they were smartly all over the ball.
As for St. Joe's, speedy sophomore Nicholas Hall broke several nice runs while senior Tunde Babarinsa had a solid second half at quarterback with his legs and arm.
The Marauders hurt themselves with turnovers, fumbling to set up NT's touchdown that would make it 21-3, then answering two turnovers by the Jacks with two interceptions of their own. The first St. Joe's possession of the second half ended on a fourth-and-2 play that failed on a bad snap.
"As good a football team as they are, we shot ourselves in the foot
many times," said Marauders coach Bob O'Connor. "It started off by mishandling the opening kickoff, but as
good a football team as they are, we shot ourselves in the foot so many
times. It started off by mishandling the opening kickoff, and it was
downhill after that. We just made too many mistakes.
"[NT] did a lot of blitzing, lot of stunting, a lot of moving around [on defense]. When we moved ball at times and get things going, we had a breakdown here, a breakdown there. That was the name of
the game -- we broke down too many times."