Losing players to graduation is just a way of life in high school sports.
That being said no Zak Ciezki, no problem so far for the Cheektowaga Warriors.
Through the first two weeks of the season, the defending Section VI Class B champions still look like the team to beat in a class that seemed wide open in the preseason what with the move of last year’s runner-up Bennett to Class C and the graduation hit absorbed by the Warriors themselves.
But after outscoring opponents 78-13 through two weeks, that big-play Cheektowaga offense appears to be in good hands with junior quarterback Eric Bartnik and the Warriors once again look like the favorite to return to The Ralph in November.
Bartnik’s home debut was quite impressive as he completed his first eight passes en route to a 13-for-20 day with 129 yards during the Warriors’ 50-7 rout of Lewiston-Porter in a Class B West contest Friday night.
During the win, last year’s junior varsity signal-caller proved he has already developed quite the rapport with star receiver Stephan Parker, the junior who hauled in the 40-yard Hail Mary pass in the Warriors’ 40-34 triumph over Bennett in the Sectional final last November. Bartnik, who completed his first eight passes of the game, has thrown all four of his varsity touchdown passes to Parker and for the season has completed 12 of his 25 passes to Parker for 192 yards.
After connecting for three scores in a Week One win at Fredonia, 28-6, the duo hooked up for a 14-yard TD late in the second quarter – part of a five-reception, 61-yard day for Parker.
“We didn’t know what to expect (from him),” Warriors coach Mike Fatta said of Bartnik. “He went to a bunch of camps over the summer. He’s intelligent. He’s smart. … He’s put it all together and made himself a pretty good player.”
Cheektowaga had a 28-0 lead before Bartnik’s first incompletion.
Bartnik’s ability to hit his receivers early thrwarted Lew-Port’s attempts at slowing down a rushing attack that finished with 281 yards – 53 of those on the game’s third play when Bartnik dropped back to pass and then handed it off to Tyree Billingslea on a trap play that gave the hosts a lead they’d never relinquish.
“I knew he was going to play well,” said Billingslea. “I saw him play on JV. He’s been practicing hard. He’s still got more to come.”
Through two games, Bartnik has completed 50 percent of his passes for 374 yards and earned a nomination for the Connolly Cup. Not bad for a rookie.
“It’s a lot easier after we got that first score out of the way,” Bartnik said. “It’s not too much different than JV. It’s just faster and more intense. I like to play fast and I like to play intense.”
He’s in his element Friday. After helping Cheektowaga score the final 28 points of the game in Week One, he helped them take a 34-0 lead before Lew-Port broke the Warriors’ consecutive points string. Bartnik proved to be most effective on the Warriors’ second touchdown drive. He hit on passes of 25 and 12 yards and produced 46 of the 69 yards on that possession through the air.
Cheektowaga outgained its foe, 300-127 in the first half, 400-175 for the game.
With the quarterback doing his thing, Billingslea rushing for 184 yards and the defense returning two pick sixes and notching a safety, the Warriors looked scary good Friday.
“Everyone did what we had to do and we were very disciplined,” Billingslea said.
Especially the signal-caller.