Lost among the offensive exploits of Lancaster this football season has been the play of the team's defense. The stingy unit has its share of playmakers.
The 'D' flaunted its talent Saturday at New Era Field as the Legends earned the right to party at the home of the Buffalo Bills for the first time since 1999.
The Section VI title drought is over at Lancaster, as the Legends defeated Orchard Park, 27-7, in the Class AA final to capture their first sectional crown in 17 years.
A defense that came in yielding 16.8 points per game, but gave up 35 in an earlier meeting against the Quakers, carried a shutout into the fourth quarter. The rematch of the Week Five thriller between these teams did not come close to featuring as much offense or momentum-turning plays as that 42-35 classic.
That’s OK with the unbeaten Legends (10-0), who looked pretty good striking the championship-winning pose with the plaque in front of the estimated crowd of 3,000.
“It feels great; it’s unbelievable,” said junior Max Giordano, who made three interceptions, amassing 157 return yards, caught a touchdown pass and booted three extra points.
“I honestly don’t know how to describe it,” said first-year coach Eric Rupp, who was part of Lancaster’s last sectional title winner. “The work these kids have put in has just been phenomenal. … If you told me when I got hired in February we’d win and go 10-0 I’d thought you were crazy.”
The Legends next play the Section V champion in Far West Regional at 3:15 p.m. Nov. 12 at New Era Field.
Lancaster did something any team rarely does – beat Orchard Park twice in the same season. The Legends did it by playing mostly mistake-free football and making OP’s life hard in its home away from home. Lancaster made four interceptions with two leading to 13 points. The Legends also held the Quakers scoreless four times when they drove inside the Lancaster 30.
Perhaps the biggest stop of this game came in the third quarter with the Legends protecting a 21-0 lead. The defense swarmed OP’s Dillon Janca for no gain on a fourth-and-1 sneak play with 8:30 left in the period – still plenty of time for a comeback considering these two teams combined for 30 points in under 10 minutes the last time they met at Quaker Field.
Saturday was a different story.
“Our defense had a game for the ages,” said Rupp, crediting defensive coordinator Dave Mansell for doing a great job in preparing the team.
Lancaster’s pass coverage shined as it limited one of the best scholastic quarterbacks in Western New York history, Janca, to just 168 yards and 16 completions on 40 attempts. Janca finished his three-year career with 6,299 yards passing, third all-time in WNY history behind St. Francis quarterback Jerry Hickson and former Williamsville South star Joe Licata.
“Coach Mansell prepared us well this week,” said Joe Andreessen, who finished with nine tackles and an interception. “We made a lot of corrections from the last time we played them and I think it showed (today).”
Ben Damiani led Lancaster, the News’ No. 1-ranked large school, with 12 tackles. Jacob Michalski added nine.
The Legends seized control with a 14-point second quarter as Giordano, who caught four passes for 58 yards, made a nice diving catch in the end zone on a throw between the safeties by junior Ryan Mansell. Andreessen then plowed his way in from the 1 with 4 minutes, 34 seconds left in the period.
Lancaster ended thoughts of an OP comeback and 15th title in its 21st appearance at the stadium formerly known as The Ralph early in the third quarter. Andreessen picked off Janca at the 40 and returned it 32 yards to set up Zach Samborski’s 8-yard touchdown run.
Giordano’s interception and 34-yard return on a tipped ball early in the fourth led to Mansell’s 1-yard score on a quarterback keeper with 9:39 left.
Janca scored on a 3-yard run on OP’s next possession but that’s as close as the Quakers got in this one as mistakes proved to be their undoing despite finishing with more total yards than Lancaster (320-245).
“It was Lancaster’s year,” longtime OP coach Gene Tundo said. “They didn’t make mistakes and you don’t lose when you don’t make mistakes. … They outplayed us.”
Lancaster will now try to do something the program has never done before: win a regional game. It won’t be easy as unbeaten Section V champion Victor is ranked first in the state.
That game was the furthest thing from Lancaster’s mind Saturday. They were too busy celebrating a legendary triumph.
“Just to come out here and get the win is just unbelievable,” Giordano said. “I wouldn’t want to play for any other team.”