West Seneca East may have had experience on its side Friday night but it still took a pretty special effort to put away a young, gritty Hamburg crew.
The Trojans’ special teams proved to be the difference in this Class A South showdown as John Dolac III blocked two extra points and sophomore teammate Jared Maurino smothered an onside kick with 1:35 left to secure West Seneca East’s 21-20 win over the Bulldogs at Howe Field.
Hamburg senior quarterback Dante Mastrangelo engineered two scoring drives in a span of 2 minutes and 14 seconds with just under four minutes left to force the unbeaten Trojans (3-0) to sweat this one out.
They seemingly had the “W” tucked in their back pocket when Ray Ray Johnson took it to the house on a 62-yard touchdown run with 3:55 left. That made the score 21-6, completing a three-touchdown in as many possession second-half blitz by the guests.
But as Hamburg (2-1) proved last postseason when it rallied from an 18-point second half deficit for an overtime win at Williamsville South, it will keep fighting until the end.
This time, time finally ran out on the Bulldogs.
Plays of game: Three of them, from the Trojans’ special teams. The last: Maurino calmly corralling Hamburg’s final onside kick to deny the Bulldogs a chance at the miracle. That came after Jason Shuttleworth executed a perfect onsider two minutes earlier – a bouncer that proved too hot for WSE to handle.
The other two plays came courtesy of do-everything star Dolac. The senior burst his way through the line cleanly to block Shuttleworth’s first PAT kick try late in the first half. He then penetrated just enough to get a hand on another PAT kick try in the fourth quarter to keep it a two-possession game with the Trojans up 21-12.
Quotable: “We talk to our kids about the importance of special teams all the time,” WSE coach Jim Maurino said. “We know at least two, maybe three games are going to be decided by extra points and that was one of them tonight. We were fortunate to come out on top. … It was a great Class A South battle.”
How did he do it: How did Dolac block two extra-point attempts?
“I was looking at the ball both times and as soon as the center snapped it I just went and came in clear both times,” he said.
Statement drive: After being held to just 50 yards rushing in the first half, West Seneca East gained 55 of its 80 on the ground during the opening drive of the third quarter. Dolac, limited to 24 first-half yards on seven carries, finished the drive with a 2-yard TD run. He had 43 on six rushes as the Trojans ran 5 minutes, 52 seconds off the clock on that possession.
Keeping them honest: West Seneca East used its passing game to open things up for the run game, forcing the Bulldogs’ defense to stop clogging the box. Austin Breidenstein completed 9 of 12 passes for 94 yards.
Go-ahead score: WSE took the lead for good on Breidenstein’s 17-yard run early in the fourth quarter. Johnson provided what proved to be the nail in the coffin with his long TD run off a counter-play run to the right side.
Play of the first half: It wasn’t flashy, it was brawny. Senior receiver Sean DeLellis had a Trojans defender draped all over him the final 5 yards of his 22-yard TD catch. The run after the catch turned into the drag the defender after the catch. He flexed the guns during his TD celebration.
Quotable II: “We have a lot of fight in us but they made more plays than us,” Hamburg coach Pat Cauley said. “We’ve got to protect” on kick attempts. “That’s on us as coaches. In a one-point game, you miss two of them, and we have an excellent kicker who has great range. But we have to give him an opportunity” to make the kick.
Leaders: Johnson rushed for 155 yards on 10 carries to lead the Trojans. Dolac had 88 on 18 carries and also made 11 tackles on defense. West Seneca East outgained the hosts, 375-260. DeLellis finished with four catches for 84 yards, including a 39-yard grab that led to the first of two late fourth-quarter TDs by Hamburg. Mastrangelo went 12 for 18 passing for 135 yards and two TDs and also rushed for a 1-yard score.
P.A. pipes: Larry Murtha has been the public address announcer for Hamburg football for 21 years. Every now and then he sings the national anthem, basically when there isn’t a student who volunteers. Simply put: the man can sing. He’s good enough to be Doug Allen’s backup at Sabres games.
Attendance: An estimated 1,500 attended a thrilling battle between Southtowns rivals.
Next week: West Seneca East heads to Riverside’s Dingboom Field to take on McKinley in a Class A South contest on Friday. Hamburg braces for another test Friday, this time in Elma where it faces Iroquois.