It's been more than a decade since Orchard Park and Hamburg have faced each other in a boys' lacrosse game.
Two of the most successful programs in Western New York are about to make up for lost time.
The big winner: Western New York lacrosse fans.
The reigning Section VI champions in their respective classifications meet for the first time since 2005 with OP visiting Howe Field at Hamburg to take on the Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Saturday in what figures to be a must-see event.
Both teams entered this week unbeaten with Orchard Park (4-0) slated to face Section V's Canandaigua on the road Thursday prior to the battle of the Southtowns. Hamburg (6-0) has been idle since beating Virginia-powers Chantilly and Westfield last week during its annual Easter break road trip.
Come Saturday night, may the best team win?
"I've always wanted this game because it's good for Western New York lacrosse," said Bulldogs coach Jerry Severino, a former longtime Orchard Park assistant who joined the staff of the late Ed Van Tine at Hamburg in 2004 – becoming head coach in waiting.
"These two communities and the Western New York lacrosse landscape deserve this game," Severino said. "It's two of the best in the area. … We're both going to benefit from it. … It's a win, win."
The teams are facing each other because of the state's decision to add a fourth classification (Class D) to the sport's roster produced a side effect. New enrollment numbers resulted in just 12 teams total in Classes A and B in Section VI with only five in the largest classification.
Section officials decided to have each team in Classes A and B face each other once this year as a way of making sure all of the Class A teams filled their schedules. That gave the fans this Saturday's game. The coaches agreed to schedule an encore presentation May 15 at Orchard Park that will be considered a nonleague game.
"When space opened up in the schedule, it was nice to rekindle an old rivalry," said second-year Quakers coach Larry Catalano, who became friends with Severino when both coached at OP. "Hopefully we can do this for a number of years."
While it's been more than a decade since OP last faced and defeated the Bulldogs, one thing hasn't changed since that meeting. The Quakers have continued adding Section VI championships to their trophy case.
What is different? Hamburg has amassed its own collection of hardware.
Reigning Class A champion Orchard Park has won 24 sectional titles the past 26 years – a few of those at the expense of the Bulldogs during the early 2000s. Hamburg has won nine of the last 10 Class B crowns, including five straight championships.
Hamburg and OP had a couple grudge matches with Section VI titles on the line back in the day. OP edged the Bulldogs, 16-15, in overtime when it rallied from a three-goal fourth-quarter deficit in 2001. The Quakers won the Class A final rematch the following season. The programs met in regular-season games from 2002-05 – all OP wins.
Why did the teams stop meeting?
The addition of new teams and change in division formats reduced the number of nonleague games each could play, according to Catalano – an OP assistant for 19 seasons before taking over for program-founder Gene Tundo last year. Catalano said the Quakers had nonleague commitments with out-of-area teams they didn't want to lose.
The situation has changed.
"I think it's always nice to add good games," Catalano said. "We need hard competitive games to play."
That's the best way to prepare for the challenge that is facing the always strong Section V champions from the Rochester area in Far West Regionals.
Speaking of strong, Hamburg and Orchard Park, of course, head into Saturday's clash with some of the top talents in the area.
Returnees for the Bulldogs include 2016 All-Western New York and U.S. Lacrosse All-America pick Jason Chiodo, who has 10 goals, seven assists and nine ground balls. The senior attackman/midfielder is coming off a 48-goal, 38-assist campaign in which Hamburg suffered its only loss in 19 games last year in the state quarterfinals.
"He is the standard we all try to get to and right now he's taking a back seat so that our offense can jell," Severino said of Chiodo, who's been on the team since being called up from junior varsity for the playoffs as an eighth-grader.
Classmate Gabe Schneider has 18 goals while fellow attackman Jack Rettig, a junior, has seven goals and 13 assist. Faceoff specialist John Collins has done his part to make sure the Bulldogs have the ball, a lot. He's won 72.3 percent of his draws and has a team-high 61 ground balls. Seniors Jacob Sneader and Anthony Diamico anchor the defense. Diamico is a trusted versatile player who can play long stick or close-up defense depending on the team's defensive strategy.
Hamburg has been bolstered by the addition of goalkeeper Jacob Phillips, a junior who transferred back to the district after playing for Bishop Timon-St. Jude and St. Francis the past two seasons.
While Orchard Park did graduate several seniors – including All-WNY picks Ronnie Shul and Kevin McParlane, it still returns 16 players from last season. That includes All-WNY and U.S. Lacrosse All-America defender Josh Dahl – who is fast and physical. Other returning starters include goaltender Matt Howolka and attackman Pat Sullivan.
Those who have stepped in to keep the Quakers rolling include Cayden Collins, Coleman Jacobs and John Owens. Collins can play attack and midfield.
Nic Bruce is an athlete Catalano can't say enough about. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior not only is fast, he's noticeable in a good way because he has a knack for taking the ball away from his opponent.
The faceoff battle between John Collins and OP counterpart Mitch Streety bears watching since something has to give in the circle. Through five games, Streeety has won 86 percent of his face-offs.
Of course, face-offs are just one part of a game that folks will keep a close eye on.
"Most of the kids know each other," Catalano said. "I'm sure coach Sev and the Hamburg kids want to win the game as much as we want to. The nice thing is it doesn't really impact us playoff wise."
But bragging rights can be a powerful motivator.
"We respect them like crazy because we know we have to knock them off the mountain," Severino said. "When it's over, it'll have been great competition and both teams will have gotten better because of it."