Turnovers cleared a path for Orchard Park to return to its home away from and closed the door on Clarence’s fine season.
The Quakers earned a shot at defending their Section VI Class AA championship next Saturday at New Era Field by defeating the host Red Devils, 34-18, before an estimated crowd of more than 1,000 on a frigid Friday night.
OP recorded six takeaways in this one, including four interceptions in the second half. The Quakers took the momentum for good on Josh Dahl’s 90-yard interception return for a touchdown with 4 minutes, 26 seconds left in the third quarter to turn a three-point game into a double-digit lead Orchard Park never relinquished.
With the win, the Quakers advance the stadium formerly known as “The Ralph” for the 21st time, looking to improve to 15-6 all-time at the home of the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s exciting,” Quakers coach Gene Tundo said. “You’re playing where the Bills play. We love the Bills, we love in that town. It’s for a championship too. We want to keep playing there.”
Play of the game: Dahl’s pick-six for obvious reasons. Clarence was in position to at least attempt a game-tying field goal when sophomore quarterback Jack Putney’s pass toward a seemingly open receiver near the right sideline was intercepted by Dahl. The senior outran everyone down the sideline. The play seemed to deflate a young Clarence team that was hoping to return to the Class AA final for the first time since 2010.
Players of the game: Dahl, who also scored on touchdown runs of 16 and 62 yards. He rushed 15 times for 144 yards. He also made five tackles on defense.
OP teammate Solomon Brown also shares the honor. Not only did he play like his hair was on fire in making 15 tackles, including two for losses, but also recorded an interception at the linebacker position. It came close to being a pick-six early in the third quarter but he got caught at the Clarence 4 on the 16-yard return.
Tundo on Dahl: “Josh took over the game for an eight-minute span and our offensive line did a good job, too.”
Bright future: The Red Devils may have lost, but they are set up for another successful season in 2017.
They potentially have 20 athletes set to return including their starting quarterback, Putney, and three running backs, who helped the program capture the Class AA North Division title.
More stats: OP quarterback Dillon Janca completed 11 of 16 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. Nic Bruce caught eight passes for 54 yards, while Zachary Prince caught a 17-yard TD also played well defensively. Pat Sullivan finished with eight tackles.
Clarence sophomore quarterback Jack Putney rushed for 81 yards on 17 carries and passed for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw five interceptions.
Halftime stats: Orchard Park amassed 159 yards, Clarence 128 during the opening 24 minutes.
Points off turnovers: Orchard Park turned a Dylan Bieler fumble recovery on Clarence’s first possession near midfield into seven points. The Quakers marched 61 yards in six plays, with Janca sneaking it in from the 1 after completing three passes for 53 yards on the drive.
Clarence turned a muffed punt by OP into its first points of the game, a 29-yard field goal by Niko Mullen after Noah Corry recovered the loose ball at the Quakers’ 21 with 7:38 left in the second quarter.
Records: Orchard Park is 6-3, Clarence 6-3.
Next: Section VI Class AA final at New Era Field on Nov. 5 at 3:15 p.m. against Lancaster, a 35-12 winner over Hutch-Tech in the other semfinal.
It will be the second meeting between OP and Lancaster. The Legends returned a block punt in the final seconds for the winning score during a 42-35 Week Five triumph at Quaker Field.