PENDLETON – Starpoint has been pretty good at football the past few seasons, with the Spartans winning a share of the Class A North Division title last year.
Despite the success, the fans didn’t really pack Tudor Stadium often because of timing. Students work and people tend to have plans that prevent them from attending Saturday afternoon games.
That problem, for at least one day, is now history at Starpoint. And, the Spartans put on quite the show during their first ever prime-time home game Friday night. Starpoint defeated a really good Grand Island team, 36-19, during a Class A North clash, as a ground-and-pound attack that churned out more than 300 yards and a relentless second-half sack attack carried the Spartans to a historic triumph.
Both teams came into Friday unbeaten, but it was Starpoint (3-0, 3-0) that remained perfect on a flawless night for sports under the lights. It was quite bright at the Spartans’ renovated home, which includes a state of the art color video scoreboard and the all-weather surface that’s become quite popular.
Williamsville North also showed off its new lighted, all-weather surface facility for the first time on a football Friday, while others to recently join the Friday Night Lights party in Western New York include Sweet Home and Grand Island.
“It’s amazing,” said Starpoint junior Tajay Ahmed, who rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries, including a sensational 83-yard first-quarter jaunt that broke a scoreless tie. “To hear the crowd cheering … I love everything about it.”
He’s not the only one.
Leading up to the contest, longtime Spartans coach Al Cavagnaro tried to keep everything as normal as possible for his team because this was a big game for a team with championship dreams.
Normalcy was thrown for a loss once coaches and players saw the number of students who filled a section of the home-side stands prior to kickoff and heard them cheering during the game.
“High school kids want their peers to be at the game,” Cavagnaro said. “Football, unlike other sports, we were playing on Saturday afternoons when kids are working. Tonight you saw the stands filled with students. That was special for (the players). … Going from having 30 kids to over 300, that was great.”
So too was Starpoint’s line play as that proved to be the difference in this one.
From Ahmed’s facility-christening long touchdown run, in which he was pretty much scored untouched, to a pass rush that thwarted a potential Vikings comeback bid – both sides of the Spartans line deserved game balls.
Ahmed’s big night was part of an effort in which Starpoint ran for 304 of its 455 yards. Center Jacob Kiff anchored a line that opened holes for Ahmed and running backs Terry Rutland and Anthony Robinson. On defense Kiff recorded 3.5 of his team’s seven sacks – including 2.5 of Starpoint’s five second-half takedowns of Grand Island quarterbacks Cam Sionko and Conner Buzby.
Austin Meenaghan had two sacks and forced an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone with a near sack that resulted in a safety to stake Starpoint to a 16-0 lead late in the second quarter.
“Every time Grand Island and Starpoint plays, the team that wins up front wins the game,” Cavagnaro said. “That was the difference last year. That was the difference (Friday).”
Sionko, a sophomore, tried to be the ultimate difference-maker, leading a Grand Island comeback that almost spoiled the Spartans’ special night. He threw a touchdown pass of 5 yards to Zane Johnson as the first-half expired and added a 20-yarder to Will Hughes on the opening drive of the third quarter as the Vikings trimmed a 16-point deficit to three.
Starpoint, a team with 20 seniors and pretty good sophomore quarterback of its own in Aaron Chase (8 for 12, 141 yards, two TDs), weren’t to be denied. The Spartans scored the next 20 points and recorded five sacks after that possession with Kiff’s takedown of Sionko sparking the momentum swing as it forced a three-and-out on GI’s second possession of the third quarter.
“It was crazy having all the fans around us,” Kiff said. “It felt good winning at home.”
Starpoint will look to keep the run going next Friday at home, playing rival Lockport. The Spartans won the matchup last year.
“I love this,” said 1975 Starpoint graduate and athletics department contributor Bill Austin. “This is incredible.”