Cheektowaga had a close-call victory over Depew in the teams’ regular season meeting.
The Warriors’ defense made sure the same thing wouldn’t happen in the playoffs.
With a second-half shutdown performance by its defense leading the way, Cheektowaga beat visiting Depew, 41-24, Friday night in a Section VI Class B quarterfinal.
“The first game we won by seven, and we thought we should have won by more because we thought we played way better than them, but we committed some mental mistakes,” said Cheektowaga senior quarterback Zak Ciezki, referring to the Warriors’ 28-21 win at Depew in Week Five.
“This game, our defense was struggling at first, but in the second half they came back, got a pick-six and got us the ‘W.’ The second half, the way they were shutting it down, I knew we were going to get this win.” Cheektowaga, the third-seeded team in the Class B playoff bracket but the No. 7 team in The News Small School Poll, will host seventh-seeded and No. 5 small school Maryvale next Friday night in the Class B semifinals.
“We challenged the defense at halftime,” said Cheektowaga coach Mike Fatta. “They knew it was up to them. Our offense has been pretty proficient – it’s always come down to the defense. I’m really proud of them. They really did step up.”
In a game that just saw one punt by both teams in a 21-21 first half, the Cheektowaga defense forced two straight punts by Depew (the No. 4 small school) to enable the Warriors to turn a 24-21 deficit into a 34-24 lead.
At the start of the second half, it appeared that the offensive display from the first half would continue when Depew ended its first drive of the third quarter with a 28-yard field goal for the omnipresent Tyler Anna (the senior also had two interceptions in the end zone and an 86-yard touchdown catch to open the scoring).
After Cheektowaga punted for the first time all game, its defense then answered back by stopping Depew on two straight series. Its offense turned its opportunities into points with a 4-yard touchdown run by senior Marshawn Gibson to go up 28-24 with 2:01 left in the third quarter, and a 7-yard touchdown pass by Ciezki to senior Davion Stallworth to make it 34-24 with 7:15 to play.
Then, with Depew starting a possession deep in its own end, senior Naeem Shah all but settled matters when he made a great break on a pass to the left side by Depew senior quarterback Dylan Sekuterski (two TD passes, one TD run). Shah nabbed it and outran Sekuterski to the right pylon for a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown to put Cheektowaga up 17 with 6:21 left.
“I was just at the right place at the right time,” said Shah. “I didn’t do anything special. I just made the interception and I tried to score because I knew we needed it.
“We just played hard,” Shah said of the defense’s second half. “We just said we were going to punch them in the mouth good and do our best to win this game.”
Cheektowaga stopped Depew’s next possession on downs and would run out the clock.
Senior linebacker JoJo Ortiz had 10 tackles for Cheektowaga while persistent edge rusher Jerell Rolling, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, had six tackles and four sacks.
Ciezki was 13 of 18 passing for 145 yards and two touchdowns while he ran 14 times for 94 yards. Gibson ran 25 times for 146 yards in what is a balanced, dangerous offense. Six different receivers caught passes. One of those was junior Tyron Lawson, who had a 46-yard touchdown reception and ran for a 4-yard score in the first half. Senior Drequon Trotter ran for a 1-yard score in the first half.
“It was a great team win,” said Rolling. “We had some struggles in the first half, but we came in the second half and did what we had to do and it all worked out perfectly in the end.”
Maryvale won at second-seeded and Class B South champion East Aurora, 7-0, in its quarterfinal Friday night.
It should be a remarkable atmosphere next weekend when the Town of Cheektowaga rivals play for the right to advance to the B championship game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“Maryvale is coming in here and they pounded us the last time,” Fatta said of last week’s 35-6 home loss to the Flyers. “I know that’s who the boys wanted to play. They wanted another shot at those guys, and it’s going to be real tough.”