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McKinley football rides wave of momentum into postseason

By winning Hillery Bowl 2016, the McKinley football team made sure they secured more than familial bragging rights for coach Brian Hillery.

The Macks also earned a home playoff game.

McKinley is back in the postseason after a one-year absence and it should be quite the scene at Riverside High School’s Dingboom Field.

Winners of five straight games, the Macks look to extend their streak at 7 p.m. Friday night when they face Williamsville South in a Section VI Class A quarterfinal contest. The clash is one of 20 playoff games across five classes this weekend in Section VI with 17 of them slated for Friday night.

Schedule highlights include Orchard Park beginning its Class AA title defense at home as a No. 2 seed out of the South Division against Williamsville North, which placed third in the North Division. There are also title-game rematches in two classes. In Class B, Burgard visits defending champion Cheektowaga. In the Southern Tier, Frewsburg faces reigning Class D champion Franklinville/Ellicottville.

Winners advance to semifinal games next weekend with the higher seeds serving as hosts. The Section VI finals are Nov. 4-5 at New Era Field.

Of course McKinley would like to get to that point in the season. But to think like that wouldn’t be true to the one-game-at-a-time mentality Hillery has instilled in his young crew representing a program that until last year had made the playoffs in each of McKinley’s first five seasons as members of the Section VI Football Federation.

McKinley knew it had a postseason spot locked up heading into last Saturday’s contest at Riverside by virtue of Bennett’s win over Lake Shore last Friday. But a win meant the Macks would secure at least one home playoff game. A loss and they’d be road warriors this week.

A defeat also would have meant Hillery’s brother Gavin would have earned the right to verbally give Brian the business. Gavin Hillery is an assistant coach for Riverside and wanted his Frontiers to spring an upset.

It didn’t happen. The Macks won 48-12 to extend a winning streak that has required contributions from everyone.

“I made sure the players were ready and they took care of business,” Brian said, noting their mother, Denise, told him Monday that while she was proud McKinley made the playoffs she didn’t root against either of her sons Saturday.

Through the first two weeks of the season, McKinley seemed destined for the Chuck Funke Consolation Bowl with the rest of the non-playoff teams. Even though the Macks had been competitive in losses to Niagara Falls and Bennett, 0-2 is still 0-2.

But players remained positive, exorcising any negative vibes by remembering their two defeats – to teams that also made the playoffs – were by a combined six points and that they had the lead in the final quarter.

“We just had to realize we’re a good team,” said sophomore running back and leading rusher Kaiyer Fields, one of several players who helped last year’s junior varsity team go 8-1 under Hillery’s direction.

“They practiced hard and that’s what’s allowed us to go on a five-game winning streak,” Hillery said. “It’s really about the kids’ work ethic and all the assistant coaches putting in a lot of hard work and time to produce that” result.

Fields has rushed for 10 touchdowns. Junior Taivonn Martin leads McKinley in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and interceptions. Junior linebacker Miles Haynes leads the team in tackles. Junior quarterback Taelon Hollamon has been solid in his first varsity season.

They’re not the only reason for success.

The work toward a winning season began last January during team workouts. The blending of junior varsity with returning varsity athletes and a new coaching staff has gone rather smoothly to aid in jelling process.

“We came along as a team,” third-year player and senior Anthony Arguelles said. “We worked very hard and we’ve had great coaching.”

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