Curt Fischer trudged up the tunnel at New Era Field, in obvious pain, his eyes raw from wiping away tears.
Maple Grove won its fourth straight sectional title on Friday but this championship experience was more emotional than the others for the Red Dragons coach.
Fischer underwent surgery on Tuesday and though he only missed one practice, he wasn’t sure he would be on the sideline for the Section VI Class D final against Franklinville/Ellicottville.
“I thought I was going to end up being in the booth calling everything from the top but, you know what, it worked out,” Fischer said on the field after Maple Grove’s 26-15 comeback victory.
“It was a tough week because I couldn’t go to practice Tuesday, obviously, I thought I was going to be able to but that didn’t work. Wednesday was tough, I sucked it up and brought a chair and then yesterday, a little bit better. I thought today was going to be great and I woke up and it was terrible. I was like, c’mon really? Not now. I’m sore, but obviously this makes me feel a little bit better.”
Nick Fabrizio rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns and Easton Tanner threw for 113 yards and two touchdowns, including a 13-yarder to Zach Fischer that gave Maple Grove its first lead of the game with 7:28 left in the fourth quarter.
After the game ended, Zach Fischer realized how important the win was to his father.
“He usually never hugs me after games so when he hugged me today, that’s when I noticed it,” Zach Fischer said. “It’s awesome. I know he’s in a lot of pain but he’s tough. He was at practice, he wanted to go the day of surgery but my mom wouldn’t let him.”
“It is hard to coach your own son, it really is,” Curt Fischer said. “I’m really proud of him, obviously. I’m proud of all the guys but that was special, without a doubt.”
Maple Grove defeated Franklinville/Ellicottville in the Class D title game last season after winning consecutive Class C championships as a merged program with Chautauqua Lake.
The Red Dragons (9-1) also avenged their only loss to a Section VI team over the past four years, a 26-6 defeat in the third week of the regular season against the Titans (9-1), who entered the sectional final undefeated for the first time in program history.
“This one was fantastic because we lost to them earlier in the season and we were able to come back and beat them,” Fabrizio said. “It’s great to come out and go 4-0 here and beat the only Section VI team I’ve ever lost to. They are a great team.”
Franklinville/Ellicotville jumped out to an early lead when Griffin Chudy caught a short pass from Brock Blecha, brushed off a tackle and ran up the sideline for a 58-yard touchdown. Blecha’s 2-point conversion run made it 8-0 seven minutes into the game.
Fabrizio returned a punt 27 yards to give Maple Grove a drive start at the F/E 33 and scored on a 2-yard run to cut the lead to 8-6 early in the second quarter.
The Titans went up 15-6 early in the third quarter when Tyler Clear returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown.
Maple Grove scored 20 straight points to end the game as Franklinville/Ellicottville managed only 60 yards of offense in the second half.
“It looked super good at the beginning. I had such a big heart after that and a great feeling that it was going to go well in the end,” Blecha said. “Maple Grove obviously came to play. The bottom line is they out-did us. We didn’t execute like we wanted to. The effort was there. They just played better than us.”
Tanner found an uncovered Nash Nelson on a play-action pass for a 15-yard touchdown that made it 15-13 with 3:39 left in the third quarter.
Fischer’s go-ahead touchdown came at the end of a 95-yard drive that was keyed by Keeshawn Smith’s 48-yard reception.
Carter Russo recovered a fumbled pitch at the F/E 33 to set up Fabrizio’s second touchdown run from five yards out that made it a two-score game with 3:11 remaining.
Maple Grove will play the winner of Saturday’s Section V Class D final in the Far West Regional next Friday night at SUNY Brockport.