Gunnar Carlson is not the brother of ex-Red Raiders great Stephen Carlson.
He’s just a football player trying to find his own way, a path he too hopes leads to greatness like the player before him whose surname he shares.
Gunnar Carlson took a step in the right direction toward making a name for himself Saturday afternoon. The junior back made the special play that turned the game Jamestown’s way as the Red Raiders defeated Williamsville North, 30-14, in a nonleague clash between teams quite familiar with each other.
An estimated 1,200 attended the clash at Williamsville North Field on a wet, windy, dreary day that proved to be similar conditions as when these teams battled in the Section VI Class AA semifinals last year in Jamestown – a triumph won by the defending state champion Red Raiders.
Only a handful remains from that team.
While a few of those returnees made an impact in this meeting between ranked schools, it was Carlson who delivered the play that opened the door for Jamestown’s comeback victory when he returned a blocked punt 50 yards with 4:30 left in the second quarter to pull the guests within 7-6. That was the first of 20 straight points by third-ranked Jamestown.
“That was big for us … that changed the game,” senior Red Raiders quarterback Nikkolas Holland said.
“It got us back in the game after a lousy start,” Jamestown coach Tom Langworthy said. “Gunnar stepped in and did a heck of a job."
Carlson wouldn’t have been in that position to make that much an impact if not for an injury to senior starting linebacker Jack Breen. Carlson learned midweek he’d be filling in for Breen, specifically on that designed punt-rush play.
On that play, Will North lined up in an offensive formation – attempting to quick kick in the wind from midfield because punting in that direction had been an adventure for both teams. A low snap, missed blocks leaving two untouched rushers coming at the punter who slips as he tries to boot the ball.
Disaster for North, as Carlson picked up the ball and returned it for the momentum-turning score.
"I just stepped up ... did exactly what my coach told me to do," said Carlson. "I owe it all to my coaches. … I just saw the ball laying on the ground and I knew I needed to get this. This is a momentum changer. It was definitely the key. We just had to battle back, win the next play and play Red Raiders football.”
That they did as Holland, who struggled passing in the rain, completed his first throw on his eighth attempt with 1:24 left in the first half. It was a perfect dart to a streaking Zacc Kinsey who cut toward the post after making the grab. That 37-yard play gave Jamestown a 13-7 lead, an advantage it didn’t relinquish.
Special teams came through again on the opening play of the third quarter as Ricky Williams recovered the kickoff, which slipped through the Spartans’ returner’s grasp, at North’s 20. Five plays later, Devan Jackson ran it in from the 10, the first of his two second-half touchdowns en route to an 84-yard effort on 20 rushes.
“Kids are going to make mistakes,” North coach Mike Mammoliti said. “They won and deserved to win.”
North did pull within 20-14 on Andrew Hwang’s second touchdown run of the day, a 3-yarder with 3:15 left in the third quarter. But that’s as close as it got as the task of rallying into a stiff wind in the fourth quarter proved to be daunting itself, even more so once Carson Peters drilled a 25-yard field goal to give Jamestown a nine-point lead with 8:13 left.
Holland finished 3 for 14 for 61 yards, a TD and interception. Hwang finished with 73 yards rushing to lead North, while Jose Padilla, filling in for injured quarterback Jason Hwang, had a decent day but deserved better. He finished 7 for 17 for 115 yards and an interception but had at least five catchable passes dropped by his receivers, including a pretty throw down the right sideline to an open Spartan that seemed like an easy touchdown in the first quarter, except the ball slipped through the lad’s grasp.
No early two-touchdown lead for North. No second straight impressive win to start the season for the News’ fourth-ranked large school. Still plenty of season, though, for both teams.
"Last week I was embarrassed about the way played quite frankly and our players knew that,” Langworthy said. “Today, I'm extremely proud. It's extremely gratifying to see us improve."