It doesn't matter if North Tonawanda qualifies for the Section VI playoffs today, it already has won the biggest game of the year.
At least that's the way Brandon Decheine felt Friday night after the Lumberjacks beat rival Tonawanda, 22-7, before a packed house at North Tonawanda's Lumberjack Sports Complex.
"This is the biggest game of the year for us -- bigger than the playoffs," NT's junior quarterback said, with the game's MVP trophy firmly in hand. "This is the game they've been playing for 100 years."
The win keeps the playoff hopes alive for North Tonawanda (5-3, 4-3). The 'Jacks will be rooting today for Kenmore West to beat rival Kenmore East and for Jamestown to beat Clarence. North Tonawanda would then qualify based on point differential.
While the 92nd T-NT game didn't start the way the 'Jacks had hoped, it ended with a rousing sideline celebration and coach Eric Jantzi getting doused with water bottles. Decheine gave a performance worthy of all the cheer. He threw a touchdown pass, rushed for another, intercepted a pass late in the game and surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the season. It all came on a wet, sloppy field with temperatures in the low 40s and a biting wind.
It was the 85th consecutive game played in the rivalry that began in 1904. North Tonawanda extended its lead in the series to 52-31-9.
Tonawanda was looking for its first win in North Tonawanda since 1993. After a scoreless first quarter, the Warriors used a big play to open the scoring. Adam Bacon hit end Joe Muscarella on a 64-yard touchdown pass.
"The corner bit on the fake, and I looked and the ball was there," Muscarella said of his seventh TD catch of the year.
It looked as though Tonawanda might take its lead into the locker room, but North Tonawanda answered with just seven seconds left. The 'Jacks took over on downs at their own 6-yard line and drove 94 yards on 12 plays. Decheine found Domenic Montante for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Decheine described it as a turning point "that gave us the momentum going into the locker room, and we were able to keep it during the third and fourth quarters."
The 'Jacks took the lead for good at 14-7 on their first possession of the third quarter when Nick Decheine, twin brother of Brandon, scored on a 19-yard run. A 4-yard run by Brandon on the fourth play of the drive put him over 1,000 yards.
Nick led all rushers with 105 yards on 18 carries. Brandon was close behind with 95 yards on 13 attempts, mostly on quarterback draw plays.
North Tonawanda's final touchdown came with 4:37 left when Brandon scrambled into the end zone from 14 yards.
The NT defense held Tonawanda rusher Ryan Smith to 66 yards on 15 carries. Smith needs 116 yards to become the first Tonawanda running back to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. He scored three touchdowns in last year's 24-21 comeback win.