At some point during the first half of Orchard Park’s marquee nonleague showdown against Bennett, there had to be Quakers faithful wondering what the heck was going on at Quaker Field?
Their normally passing-proficient team was struggling to make plays down field with Tigers players picking off star junior quarterback Dillon Janca twice on OP’s first three possessions. Janca also misfired on a fourth-down pass in the red zone on the Quakers’ opening drive, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The slow start is something OP is unaccustomed to, considering it came into Saturday averaging 42.5 points. But the Quakers’ line of Brandon Parker, Dan Kubik, Bret Morseon, Tim Darling and Tyler Tanevski came to play – dominating the line of scrimmage against a bigger Bennett crew so that the running game could save the day for Orchard Park before a Homecoming Game crowd of nearly 3,000.
OP rushed for 202 of its 310 yards during its 27-16 triumph against a Bennett defense that usually is quite stingy against the run. It wasn’t on this day though as Quakers Ryan Paolini and Josh Dahl combined for 200 of those yards. Paolini rushed for 107, scoring on runs of 3 and 33 yards.
“Our coaches did a great job making formations they knew would work against them and we just played them tough,” said Paolini, whose 33-yard TD run made it 27-6 with 2:24 left.
“Our passing game is good but running the ball makes everything so much easier,” said senior receiver/cornerback Kevin Koziol.
OP, the No. 2 Large School, almost exclusively ran the ball during its 21-point second half, with Janca attempting just three passes compared to the 17 he threw during the opening 24 minutes. The Quakers rushed exclusively on a seven-play, 49-yard drive capped by Paolini’s 3-yard score with 8:04 left in the third quarter to make it 14-0. Dahl rushed for 30 yards on the first three plays of the possession, Paolini amassing the final 19.
“We were getting good chunks each and every single play,” said Janca, who threw for 108 yards and two TDs on 11-of-20 passing. “That’s what was working so we kept going with it.”
OP’s ground success surprised Bennett coach Steve McDuffie, whose defense led by Syracuse-commit Isaiah McDuffie doesn’t typically get run over like it did Saturday.
“We didn’t think they were going to be able to run the ball against us,” Steve McDuffie said. “We though they were going to throw against us. That’s a huge surprise. … Some kids were busting assignments inside. … I give OP credit for that.”
All of that running finally opened up space for a deep ball, which Janca hit to Joe Losardo – a 30-yard strike – one play after Corey Mcpoland’s interception and return snuffed out a Bennett possession. That made it 21-0 with 5:35 left in the third.
OP controlled both sides of the line as a defense led by Ronnie Shul (22 tackles) limited the Tigers, who usually rush for more than 200 yards a game to just 108. McDuffie finished with 87 yards on 14 carries but the Quakers’ 52 defense did its job. It took the outside edges away from McDuffie, funneling runs inside while daring Bennett to win the game via the pass.
The Tigers, ranked first in the News' Small School poll, couldn’t do it, as OP’s Kevin Koziol, Mcpoland and Dahl each recorded interceptions – the latter two leading to Quakers touchdowns.
“Our team, we’re never intimidated no matter what the size of the other kids are,” said Dahl. “I’m really proud of our guys. … It’s our most physical game probably of the year. I have a lot of respect for Bennett to come out and play us.”