Just when you thought this rivalry already was one of the best in Western New York, the gridiron showdown between the Tonawanda Warriors and the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks added another wrinkle to its rich 100-year-plus history at the new Clint Small Stadium earlier this month.
The stadium, now attached to Tonawanda High School, opened its doors to Warriors Nation in 2013 after years of planning between administration and Tonawanda football supporters. Both the old and new home of the Warriors are named for Clint Small. The legendary coach stood on their sidelines from 1949 to 1973, finishing with a total of 108 wins, which still is the most in school history.
“I’m humbled that I’ve been able to coach at both fields,” said fifth-year coach and Tonawanda alumnus Rob Gross. The Gross name is synonymous with Warriors football as he, his grandfather, father, uncle and brother all sported the logo on their helmets during their scholastic careers and his mother was once on their cheerleading squad.
At times, some of the Warriors miss playing on the old field, which is now used as a practice field during the summer.
“We’re extremely lucky to have this new field,” said senior offensive lineman Brandon Geercken.
His teammate, senior quarterback Tristan Boling, added, “This is the nicest stadium in Western New York, and it’s cool to practice on it every day.”
Senior quarterback Chris Woodard scored four touchdowns for 157 yards on 16 carries. Senior outside linebacker Dan Lukaszonas had a career-high 11 tackles in what he called the biggest game of his career.
“This game showed how dedicated we were the entire offseason, through multiple hours in the weight room, and even in the weeks leading up to this game,” Dan said. “This was a great opportunity to play at this great facility.”
His teammate, middle linebacker Taylor Mellott, added six tackles and recorded his first interception of the season.
“We’ve seen these guys the past four years and in little league so we’ve known each other for a long time,” the senior said. They won against us in little league all the time, so it was great to win against them tonight. With all of the fans here, this was a special night.”
About 3,400 spectators filled the bleachers, which gave North Tonawanda head coach Tony Truilizio chills while on the sidelines.
“This is a state-of-the-art facility here in Tonawanda,” he said. “To be able to accommodate 3,500 people comfortably is great. I told my seniors back when they were sophomores three years ago, ‘Don’t let me be the coach that loses to this Tonawanda program’ and they’ve held their word ever since. This was a great environment to be a part of.”
On the Tonawanda side, Boling finished with 20 carries for 116 yards and found his favorite target, best friend and fellow senior, tight end Brandon Frye, for a 7-yard touchdown.
The two were also huge contributors in the school’s postseason berth last season, which ended a decade of drought.
“I’m sad that those two are seniors,” Gross said. “They made great plays for us the past three years and tonight was no exception.”
The Warriors also had an underclassman shine for them in this historic game. When you make a varsity team as a sophomore, that’s something special, but in Ethan Shattuck’s case, his career is only beginning as he finished with 19 rushes for 102 yards and scored on an 8-yard scamper in the third quarter.
“Ethan’s our leading rusher this year,” Gross said. “He did another great job tonight.”
While this was Ethan’s first TNT Classic, it was also Alex Molik’s last. The big offensive lineman from North Tonawanda watched this game every year since he was in kindergarten, and said it was bittersweet that this was his last TNT game. “TNT is a big part of this city and even Western New York,” he said. “This game was an icing on the cake for this season.”
“This is still part of our tradition,” Gross said. “We’re just at a different location.”
Joseph Kraus is a junior at North Tonawanda High School.