The first-week showdown lived up to its billing. And so did Joe Licata and Williamsville South.
With a strong-armed quarterback and several able receivers returning this season, the Billies were thought to be poised for a breakthrough season. On Saturday, they broke through.
Licata threw for four touchdowns and a school-record 377 yards as South beat Grand Island for the first time in more than a decade. The Billies' entertaining, 32-29 victory before an estimated 800 at Grand Island's Gene Masters Field was so close that both teams caught touchdowns that had been deflected -- and one last deflection saved the game for South.
With South holding its three-point lead with just over a minute to play, Grand Island tried to pull off its second razzle-dazzle play of the game on fourth-and-8 at the South 40.
Grand Island ran a double-reverse and then pitched the ball back to senior quarterback Joel Klock, who unleashed a pass over the middle which was headed to an open Nick Kellner near the end zone. South senior Mark Coppola, familiar to basketball fans as the Billies' quick point guard, was on the right side but ran across the field from his defensive back position to get a piece of the ball and knock it away.
"I saw the reverse and saw them going to pitch it, so then I just left my man and ran deep," said the 5-foot-6 Coppola. "I just went up for the ball and tried to tip it. It was close, I almost jumped too early."
Despite it being Week One, South's win sets the tone for what should be an exciting Class A playoff race. Class A was combined from two divisions into one 11-team group, which resulted in an imbalanced schedule and put more weight on this matchup.
"It's awesome for us," said third-year South coach Kraig Kurzanski. "With the new alignment in A, we knew that every league game mattered even more than before."
A back-and-forth fourth quarter began with South in front, 25-23. Grand Island took a 29-25 lead on a tremendous trick play in which Klock (12-25, 169 yards, two TDs) passed to the right side to junior Tom Dzielski, who was still behind the scrimmage line. Dzielski unleashed a beautiful pass across the middle to junior Pat Gallagher, who was a step behind a defender as he met the ball and ran on to the end zone for a 59-yard score.
South went ahead, 32-29, after a 5-yard touchdown pass from Licata to Kevin O'Connell in the right side of the end zone, completing a drive during which Licata was 4 for 6, including a 23-yard connection to Coppola.
The 6-2, 185-pound junior Licata completed 26 of 47 passes in the spread offense, with his 377 yards shattering the 39-year-old school record of 316 (Joe Austin, 1970).
Kurzanski said Licata is "on Notre Dame's radar screen," so much so that the coach and player are headed to the Fighting Irish's game against Michigan State on Sept. 19.
Phil Stasiak had seven catches for 137 yards, O'Connell caught 11 for 114 yards and two touchdowns (including one on a deflection in the first half) and Coppola had three catches for 97 yards.
GI's Andy Lalonde ran 18 times for 128 yards, Nick Kellner had six catches for 104 yards and two TDs (including one off a deflection on GI's opening series) and Brett Dlugosz had 13 tackles.