Southwestern's Chris Stoddard had a feeling he was kicking the game-winning field goal in Friday night's Section VI Class B semifinal. The kick was good, and he was right.
Stoddard's 32-yard field goal with 7:30 remaining in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference in Southwestern's 17-14 victory over Tonawanda before an estimated 3,000 at Tonawanda's Clinton H. Small Stadium.
The matchup between top small schools Tonawanda (No. 2 in The News poll) and Southwestern (No. 3) lived up to the teams' rankings, as the Trojans scored the final blow in a back-and-forth second half.
"We came back and persevered, and that's what playing with heart is all about," said Southwestern coach Jay Siranni, whose Trojans (8-1) will make their second straight trip to the Section VI championships in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Southwestern will play the winner of tonight's Albion at Olean semifinal in the Class B championship at 5 p.m. Friday.
The field goal finished a Southwestern drive in which the Trojans got a 29-yard gain on third-and-12 at the Southwestern 35 thanks to a screen pass to wide-open senior back Steve Mancari. Stoddard's kick just slipped inside the left goal post and was only possible thanks to senior Eric Stevens' great catch and hold of a high snap.
"Stevens got it -- he's my boy," said Stoddard, a sophomore. "We practice it all the time. It was going through my head that this could be the game-winner, and I just kicked it normal. I was praying. I was like, 'Come on, go through,' and it snuck in. I knew our whole team had faith in me."
The teams toughed it out in the first half with Southwestern taking a 7-0 lead on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Chad Bush to Matt Mazgaj. Mazgaj, as he would do all night from his fullback and linebacker positions, slammed a player out of his way on his way to end zone.
Southwestern, running with efforts from Mancari (24 carries, 110 yards) and Mazgaj (6-33), and getting key passes from Bush, looked as if it might dominate the game early on, but Tonawanda hung around and changed the momentum on its first possession of the second half. On fourth-and-6 at the Southwestern 42, a wide-open Troy Langworthy reeled in a pass on the left side for a 58-yard score and a 7-7 tie.
Southwestern roared back on its next drive, going 72 yards behind three first-down passes by Bush and three first-down runs by Mancari, who gave the Trojans the lead with a 5-yard TD run with 1:42 left in the third. After a poor kickoff, Tonawanda (7-2) turned excellent field position (Southwestern 30) into a tie game when senior Mark Francis jumped over a pile of bodies for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 14-14 with 11:55 to play.