By Keith McShea
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
Two big favorites and two big underdogs in the large schools. Four great rematches in the small schools. And that’s just the start as we head to Ralph Wilson Stadium this weekend for the Section VI football championships. Here’s what to keep an eye on at The Ralph:
Best Cinderella story: Williamsville North lost its first two games of the season before turning around what could have been a lost season with a win over rival Will East. It wasn’t expected to beat South Park in the quarterfinals, but it did. It wasn’t expected to beat Grand Island (which beat North in Week Seven) in the semifinals, but it did. And here are the Spartans at The Ralph for the first time in school history.
Thirteenth-year coach Mike Mammolliti has a balanced group that took its commitment to another level by joining the coaching staff on scouting trips – so much so that it resulted in some seriously expensive runs to the snack bar this season.
“It cost me money every game,” Mammoliti said with a laugh. “I’m buying M&Ms and stuff – I gotta reward them somehow. My wife is saying, ‘Who spends $20 on candy?’
“We have a dozen kids coming to scout with us, they’re taking notes, writing tendencies down … it’s pretty neat. They’ve enjoyed that mental part of the game. That doesn’t happen with high school kids.”
Biggest underdog: As is often the case, these shoes fit Cinderella, too, as Will North, ranked sixth among large schools, takes on undefeated No. 3 Sweet Home at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Sweet Home was faced with its biggest makeover this year, with seven starters gone on both sides of the ball, but the win streak is up to 69 against Section VI teams as it pursues a seventh straight championship.
Last year I was convinced that an exceptional group at West Seneca East would take Sweet Home down to the wire. What happened was a clinical display of coaching, skill and speed in a clear, 28-7 Sweet Home victory.
Hungriest for a title: It’s hard to put a value on this, but there is no questioning that the entire Jamestown program is eager to stand atop Section VI for the first time since 2000, especially having lost to Orchard Park the last two years at The Ralph. The Red Raiders have put up at least 50 points in all but one game, and that was their closest battle, a 42-41 win at OP. The No. 1 large school is a significant favorite against No. 5 Frontier (which it didn’t face in the regular season due to Class AA’s unbalanced schedule).
Best landscaping plan: Frontier coach Tim Myslinski says he has a “working-class team from a working-class town” and his Falcons will have to grind out some clock and control the game with their triple-option offense and staunch defense. Last week, Frontier earned its first trip to The Ralph since 1984 by winning on its muddy field against Orchard Park, and Myslinski says he’s going to bring some of the dirt from his home field for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game.
“I’m bringing some of that Frontier mud, I’m going to sprinkle it around,” he said at The Ralph during Tuesday’s media day. “I don’t know if the mosquitoes will be growing, but maybe come spring next year they might be popping out here.”
Eye-popping numbers to keep an eye-on: Jamestown senior quarterback Jake Sisson has thrown for 2,469 yards. The Western New York single-season record is 2,573 set in 2010 by Williamsville South grad and current University at Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata. Sisson has thrown 30 touchdowns. The record is Licata’s 36 in 2009. In Week Two, Sisson broke Licata’s single-game passing mark (492 in 2010) when he threw for 508 at Kenmore West.
Best recent Ralph rivalry: Depew might not want to call it the “best” as it has lost seven straight overall to Alden, but Saturday’s 4 p.m. final marks the second time that No. 1 small school Alden and No. 5 Depew have met at The Ralph. Alden, winners of the last three Class B titles and now making its fifth straight trip to the stadium, beat Depew for the title in 2011 (12-0) and prevailed in a semifinal last season at home (28-21). Alden also put forth one of the season’s best performances when it won at Depew, 28-7.
Best Ralph rematch: Fredonia and Cleveland Hill played a highlight-filled final last year won by Cleve Hill, 22-20, in which the Golden Eagles scored on a kickoff return as well as 58- and 84-yard scoring plays and Fredonia had a hook-and-lateral touchdown. Now they’re both 9-0 with two of the most prolific offenses in Western New York heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. game. The Hillbillies are second to Jamestown (500) with 416 points and are coming off a 72-point game while Cleve Hill is fifth (390).
Biggest favorite: Randolph has been the No. 1 Class D team in the state all season long, has key cogs back from last year’s state title team, has excellent balance with a sturdy defense, running game and passing game, and it heads into Friday’s 6 p.m. final having won at Maple Grove, 35-7, this year.
Best game that hasn’t always been a game: The DD bracket that was created as a subset of Class D three seasons ago doesn’t allow the winner to go on to states, but it allows more programs, and more players, to experience a fruitful football season. While the likes of Randolph and Maple Grove have, and continue to be, at another level in Class D; the DD teams had a very competitive season. Cattaraugus/Little Valley (last Ralph trip in 2006) becomes the fourth different school that has earned the Ralph experience out of the DD bracket.
The Timberwolves meet up with Frewsburg (last D trip in 2011) at 10 a.m. Saturday in another rematch – CLV beat the visiting Bears, 21-7, in Week Seven to secure the top seed.
Best football to see before The Ralph: Tonight’s Monsignor Martin Association quarterfinal between Bishop Timon-St. Jude and St. Mary’s at 7 p.m. at All High Stadium. The winner gets Canisius in next Thursday’s semifinals at The Ralph.
Second-best football fix tonight: Follow updates from the Timon-St. Mary’s game during the 7:30 p.m. broadcast of PrepTalkTV, where I’ll be joined by Prep Talk blog contributor “Milt Latimer,” Time Warner Cable broadcaster Sean Bruso and frequent guest Dave DeLuca as we further break down the Section VI championship matchups. My live chat will follow.