Panthers heading to familiar place - The Buffalo News
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Panthers heading to familiar place

It was a special moment.

John Faller hoisted the game ball above his head and shouted, “The big thing is, we’re going to The Ralph next week!” His players rose to their feet and exploded in war-cry-like cheers – for their accomplishment and for their historic head coach – as they engulfed Faller.

Faller won his 200th career game and the Panthers defeated West Seneca East, 35-14, Saturday in front of approximately 300 at Sweet Home High School to advance to the Section VI Class A championship game. Sweet Home, the No. 3 school in The News’ large school poll, will play Williamsville North on Friday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Faller, who went 3-5 in 1986 – his first year as Sweet Home’s head coach, has led the program to six consecutive Class A titles and 69 straight wins against Section VI teams.

“I’m more concerned about these kids winning and stuff like that … I’m not worried about myself,” Faller said. “I’m always most excited for them because I know how excited they get when they go down that tunnel at the stadium.”

His squad thoroughly dominated Saturday.

For a moment, West Seneca East was within 1. Actually, it was 14 seconds.

Then junior Brandon Smiley did what he has done so many times this season: He simply took over.

After the Trojans (7-2) made it 7-6 early in the second quarter, Smiley blocked the PAT attempt and returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound standout wide receiver tip-toed down the sideline and somehow kept his balance to stay in bounds and put Sweet Home (9-0) up, 14-6.

Late in the second quarter, with Sweet Home’s lead still at one touchdown, junior quarterback Kevin Torrillo threw a jump ball to Smiley from 27 yards out – and again, Smiley delivered, hauling in the pass in the end zone to give his squad a 21-6 lead.

“He’s the kind of kid that comes up and makes big plays for us,” Faller said. “I tell the kids all the time: ‘We never know who it’s gonna be, but someone’s gotta step up every game and make some plays.’ Today it was his turn to do it.”

Smiley’s contributions were equally impressive on defense, where he added a sack and forced fumble and anchored a front seven that completely neutralized West Seneca East’s powerful rushing attack.

“This is a great team we just beat,” Smiley said. “Everybody just did our assignments this week; everyone was in their place; coach put us in the right place to win.

The beginning of the game was a sloppy affair, as both teams’ offenses struggled in the rain and mud, but Sweet Home got in rhythm near the end of the first quarter. With 3:27 remaining, junior running back Jordan Evert took a pitch 2 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Evert added a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Sweet Home cruised after Smiley’s kickoff return.

“They’re very fast … they’re athletic enough to overcome some mistakes, so we knew we had to play a perfect game to win and we just came up a little bit short,” said West Seneca East head coach Jim Maurino.

Smiley attributed his team’s success to its thorough preparation, which he attributed to its coach – who ranks among the most legendary high school football coaches in Western New York.

“He never talks about how many wins he has,” Smiley said. “He just tells us it’s an important game. He just stays humble. He keeps us humble.”

Faller and Sweet Home will chase their seventh straight Section VI Class A championship against 6-3 Will North Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the Ralph.

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