With several Sweet Home football legends in the house for the first home night game in the history of the program, West Seneca West made itself at home at the new Bob Barczak Stadium.
Embracing the role of rude house guests, West spoiled the Panthers’ historic night by coming away with a hard fought 13-6 nonleague victory Friday. An estimated crowd of 1,500, many standing along the fence surrounding the new artificial surface field, watched as a West Seneca West team that yielded 38 points in its season-opening loss frustrated a Panthers offense that put up 50 points and more than 500 yards in a Week One win at Kenmore East.
Playing without its starting quarterback due to an injury, substitute signal-caller Jesse Broad made several clutch plays with his legs and also became the answer to a trivia question. The 5-foot-10 junior scored the first touchdown in the history of the new stadium with 58.6 seconds left in the first half to break a scoreless tie and give West (1-1) the lead for good.
“We talked about let’s ruin the occasion,” second-year West Seneca West coach Mike Vastola said. “Let’s ruin their inaugural night game. Let them remember it was West Seneca West that came in here and beat them.
“Sweet Home is a great program. … We just had guys stepping up all over the place.”
That included sophomore running backs Mike Vasquez (14 carries, 105 yards, one touchdown) and John Speyer, who rushed for a combined 167 yards. That included a defense that limited Sweet Home (1-1) to 200 yards, sacked junior quarterback Joe Torrillo three times and picked him off twice, with Jake Wagner’s interception in the end zone with 6.7 seconds left in the first half foiling what had been a promising hurry-up drive by the Panthers.
That included converted wide receiver Broad, who rushed 19 times for 91 yards and a touchdown while filling in for the injured Brendan Tait.
After being picked off by Sweet Home’s Melvin Williams in the end zone and Nate Faller at the Panthers’ 2, Broad settled down – rushing 13 times for 66 yards in the second half. West rushed for 264 of its 306 yards – including 184 during the final 24 minutes.
“The kids were excited; I’m sure West Seneca West was excited to play here too under the lights and everything we had going and that’s good,” longtime Sweet Home coach John Faller said. “That’s the kind of situation we want to play in. Unfortunately tonight, they made more plays than us. It was a close game all the way. We made a few more mistakes. I think they pushed us around more than we pushed them around.”
With several Panthers football alumni in attendance who took part in a special halftime dedication ceremony, including Casey Kacz who quarterbacked the program to its first state championship back in 2008, the defenses took turns making big plays under the lights as interceptions by Williams and Faller were canceled out by picks from West counterparts Mitch Bednarz and Wagner.
Faller’s interception, though, got a rise out of the fans as the senior captain made a sensational return in which he used his blockers well and flaunted his speed. The only problem: he returned it 72 yards instead of 98 as Velasquez made the touchdown-saving tackle early in the second quarter.
“He’s probably the only kid on the field who can catch that kid,” Vastola said. “He’s got some wheels.”
Faller showed off that speed, again, with 8:41 left in the fourth quarter as he took a short pass from Torrillo to the house from 39 yards, giving the slip to the only defender that had a chance to stop him and outrunning everyone else. That made the score 7-6 but the Panthers failed to convert the extra-point kick.
They also failed to get a defensive stop as West responded with a nine-play, 61-yard drive that milked five minutes. Velasquez capped it with a 7-yard scoring run as he gained 32 yards on five carries on that possession.
Sweet Home still had a chance to drive for the tie but turned the ball over on downs at its own 25 as West’s defense held it together a week after failing to do so at Hamburg.
When Broad converted a fourth-and-2 with a 2-yard run in the final minute deep in Panthers territory, the fans started to file out as the winning results they had become accustomed to on Saturday afternoons eluded their team on this night.
“It’s disappointing we couldn’t get the first home win under the lights,” John Faller said. “They made it tough on us. When the other team makes it tough on you, you’ve got to answer the challenge and we didn’t quite do that tonight.”