Thanks to some big plays from its big boys – and a crucial one by one of its smallest – Alden is set for yet another trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Alden, the three-time reigning Section VI Class B champion, earned its fifth straight trip to the championship game at The Ralph with a 21-12 victory over visiting Burgard on Friday night.
In a battle of top 10 small schools both nicknamed the Bulldogs, Lyle Grant scored two touchdowns while quarterback Brian Stoldt ran for one as top-ranked Alden (9-0) beat No. 5 Burgard (7-2) in the Class B semifinals.
“I’ve been waiting to do this my whole life,” said Grant, a 5-foot-6, 165-pound sophomore. “I’ve always gone to the game, saw the other guys playing and just wanted to be there with them, and now I’ll have the opportunity.”
Alden will face longtime rival Depew for the Class B championship next Saturday at 4 p.m. at The Ralph. Depew beat Eden, 39-17, Friday night.
“Going to The Ralph is a great feeling, but we have to remember that we have a Sectional title to go win,” said Stoldt, a senior and three-year starter. “We’re not there to go to The Ralph, we’re there to win a Sectional title.
“The Burgard defense was fast and they played hard. My teammates, our O-line, they brought it today. They had to face some tough boys, and they got it done, and that was the difference in the game.”
After Alden took a 7-6 lead to halftime, the momentum of the game swung back and forth on two major plays off turnovers in the third quarter.
Grant, who rushed 20 times for 86 yards – including a 2-yard score in the first half – fumbled the ball and Burgard sophomore Andre Gamblin picked it up and ran it back 60 yards to put Burgard up, 12-7, with 7:38 left in the third.
When Burgard’s defense held Alden again, prospects appeared good that Burgard might be the first Buffalo Public Schools team to advance to The Ralph.
However, on Burgard’s next offensive possession, senior quarterback Rayshawn Jones had a pass to the right side sail over his receiver’s head, and Grant was there to make a leaping interception. Grant returned it 44 yards for a score that put Alden back in front, 14-12, with 3:55 left in the third.
“I knew we had to do something – we were down and we had to come back, and I did it,” said Grant, who ran down the right side of the field on his return before cutting back after a huge block from senior Ryan Richards. “I had a bunch of grass in front of me and Ryan Richards came in and destroyed that kid.”
Alden linemen excelled against a Burgard line that helped limit opposing offenses to just 27 points coming into the game. The Alden defense came up big several times. Phil Zobrest, a 6-foot-5, 227-pound senior, had 10 solo tackles and a sack. Seniors Erik Feitshans (6-5, 257) and Dylan Dussault (6-4, 193) also had six tackles.
“Their defensive line was bringing it – those kids gotta be All-Western New York if not all-state, and our interior line was practicing for it all week,” said Zobrest, a lineman and defensive end.
The Alden defense stopped Burgard after it reached the Alden 11 on a drive that extended into the fourth quarter, with junior Alex Schweitzer stopping a Jones run to the left side.
Burgard got the ball back with an interception deep in its end, but Alden forced a three-and-out that led to good field position that would put Alden in position for its game-clinching score. That would be a 27-yard keeper run to the right side by Stoldt (2 of 6 passing for 80 yards) with 3:29 left in the game to put Alden up, 21-12.
“We’ve watched our brothers, our cousins, our ex-teammates all fight through it,” Zobrest said. “We knew there was pain there. But every time you got your head down, you had to think about those teammates from the past that you’re playing for.”