There isn't a Route 277 plaque awarded to the winner of the annual rivalry clash between Cheektowaga and Maryvale, but if there were it'd be a prize that's likely almost always in the Warriors' possession much like the division championship.
The battle between the top-two ranked small school teams in Western New York with dreams of winning the Section VI Class B championship went Cheektowaga's way. The Warriors handed the No. 1 Flyers their first loss of the season Friday night, leaving Maryvale Stadium with a 28-21 victory in the Class B-1 Division showdown.
KeShone Beal proved to be tough to take down as the 5-foot-8, 225-pound junior quarterback scored all four touchdowns to enable the Warriors to capture their seventh straight division championship. While Beal made plays on offense, a host of Warriors did the same on the defensive side of the ball to stymie a Maryvale team that entered Friday having scored the most points in Class B.
"We did it again," said Beal, who rushed 21 times for 161 yards and passed for 65. "It's great (winning the division). It's something we want to do every year."
It's the second straight season these two teams met during the final week of the regular season with the division title on the line. Cheektowaga needed overtime to take down the Flyers last year.
Several players from that team participated in Friday's contest, hoping to gain a measure of revenge. The Warriors prevented that from happening by playing stifling defense while pitching a shutout during the first half. They then made the plays necessary down the stretch to repel Maryvale's comeback bid before an estimated crowd of 2,000.
"On Twitter, everywhere, it was like Cheektowaga was going to lose, even people at our school (thought we'd lose)," said junior linebacker Taivaughn Roach, who had three sacks. "They thought we were going to choke so it's a lot to fight through it and get the win. … We've been preparing for this game since Week One. … Just (making) big plays in big moments."
The Cheektowaga defense played fast and physical in slowing down a Flyers offense that entered Friday scoring nearly 37 points per game. It started with the Warriors' ability to get after the passer, Connor Desiderio. They sacked him five times, including four during the first half for minus-32 yards. Javaughn Williams had 1.5 sacks for Cheektowaga.
Also, the Flyers were held to seven running plays that either gained nothing or lost yardage during the opening 24 minutes as the Warriors built a 14-0 lead.
A sack on fourth down by Roach and Williams set up Cheektowaga's first touchdown. The five-play, 50-yard drive ended with Beal's 14-yard scoring run with 4 minutes left in the quarter. He also ran in the conversion to make it 8-0.
Another defensive stand by the Warriors, who forced a turnover on downs near midfield late in the second quarter, set up their second touchdown. Beal scored with 12.7 seconds left to cap the three-play drive as he ran it in from the 11 after rolling out to his right, unable to find an open receiver. The big play was a 43-yard pass to Tommy Zolnowski.
Maryvale's Rashad Law (19 rushes, 143 yards) had a sensational second half and did his part to try to rally his team, scoring twice, passing for a TD and recording an interception. His 53-yard TD run pulled the Flyers within 14-6 with 7:53 left in the third quarter.
Cheektowaga did what good teams must do in that spot: respond. They did so two minutes later on Beal's 1-yard touchdown.
Law scored on a 29-yard run early in the fourth quarter to pull Maryvale within 21-14. The Flyers also had two possessions after that with chances to tie – one of them set up by Law's interception. Each time the Warriors' defense rose to the challenge and denied their foe.
"The guys on the defensive side of the ball, they've been in big games," Cheektowaga coach Mike Fatta said. "We went through our process. I think a lot of the seniors are used to the bigger games so they played with poise."
When Beal scored with 1:20 left the Warriors fans started celebrating.
It paused briefly as a 50-yard option pass from Law to Ray Blackwell 23 seconds later created circumstances for a thrilling finish. Cheektowaga pounced on the onside kick but still had to run plays since the Flyers had timeouts.
Maryvale almost produced the turnover it needed to give itself a chance at a miracle ending but Beal's fumble on the game-clinching 26-yard run was forced by the ground after he was taken down by a host of Maryvale defenders.
No worries for Cheektowaga as the team that dubbed itself as the underdog before this game came out in a familiar spot: as the top dog.
Both teams return to action next week in the Section VI Class B playoffs.