Aaron Meyers may not be the prototype safety, but he sure looked like one Saturday with three interceptions in Pioneer's 22-14 Division III victory over Williamsville North.
Meyers, who was moved to safety to replace a teammate who broke his ankle before the season opener, had three of his team's five interceptions. They were the first varsity pickoffs for the stocky 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior, listed on the roster as a running back and backup linebacker.
"They kept running the same plays, and I was just reading the quarterback," said Meyers. "I could tell where he was throwing it . . . stepped in front and picked it off."
While Meyers was the talk of the defense, junior running back Dennis Wolfer was the star on offense. Wolfer, a starter since his sophomore year, powered his way for 163 yards on 26 carries, scoring his fifth and sixth touchdowns of the season. His 4-yard run in the first quarter and 4-yard run in the second spotted the Panthers a 14-0 lead at halftime.
"Our offensive line was off the ball faster, we just blocked better and our defense played good," said Wolfer. "We stuffed (North running back Chris) McDuffie, that's what we needed to do, and it pretty much went our way the whole game."
The first two quarters were not kind to the Spartans as starting fullback/linebacker Justin Kerl left the game for good in the first quarter with a knee injury.
McDuffie, who rushed for more than 100 yards in his first two games, also left the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter after gaining just 14 yards on nine carries. He tried to play one series after the initial injury, but couldn't. He sat on the bench icing his ankle during the second half.
McDuffie is the younger brother of Steve and Ted, both All-WNY selections during their careers at Grover Cleveland.
Senior quarterback Scott Lathrop scored on a 10-yard run on Pioneer's first possession of the third quarter to push the Panthers' lead to 22-0.
While Pioneer owned the first three quarters, North came alive in the fourth, scoring twice.
"I don't know if our kids saw the 22 points and started thinking about a cold Gatorade or something," said Pioneer coach Larry Slanovich. "They definitely outplayed us in that one stretch. I was real happy at the end when we came up with an interception, and then just ran the ball, and iced it with the first down."
North's junior quarterback Adam Fatzinger snuck over from the 1-yard line on fourth and goal to give the Spartans their first points with 11:13 left in the game. Senior wide receiver Andy Heim caught a 40-yard pass from Fatzinger for North's second score with 7:09 left. It was Fatzinger's fifth touchdown pass in three games.
"Fatzinger had a big game against our JVs last year, so we've seen him, and we knew he has good technique and a good arm," said Slanovich. "No one has thrown against us, so we were real concerned."
Trailing by eight points with 2:14 left, North had the ball on its 24-yard line, but like many of its previous possessions, the drive ended with an interception. Joining Meyers with pickoffs were Alex Slanovich and Lathrop.
Despite the five interceptions, Fatzinger spread the ball around in completing 16 of 29 passes for 205 yards. Heim was credited with 17 tackles while lineman Dawson Westenskow had 15.
Pioneer (3-0) entered the game ranked No. 7 in The Buffalo News large school poll while North (2-1) was No. 8.
Pioneer, the defending Division III champions, had yielded only six points in its first two games, wins over Springville and Lake Shore. The Pioneer line is anchored by 6-1, 275-pound Tim Schwab, an All-Western New York candidate.
Assistant coach Jim Duprey, son of retired Springville coach Jim Duprey, is Pioneer's defensive coordinator.