NIAGARA FALLS – Niagara Falls had an “X-factor” on its side and didn’t let Jamestown off the hook this time.
For the second time this season, the Wolverines put themselves in position to take down the defending state Class AA champions. Saturday they finished the job, as Niagara Falls advanced to the semifinals of the Section VI Tournament with a 14-12 victory over the Red Raiders.
Jaquan Hudson’s second touchdown of the day, an electrifying 95-yard kick return in the second quarter, brought most of the estimated 1,200 at the Niagara Falls Athletic Complex to its feet. That TD, along with a relentlessly good attitude, enabled the Wolverines to beat the Red Raiders for the first time during coach Don Bass’ nine seasons.
Jamestown had a chance to drive for the win and planned to set up its kicker, Carson Peters, with an opportunity from close range when a bad snap slipped away from Devan Jackson and was recovered by blitzing safety Michael Stachowski at Falls’ 10 with two minutes left.
“This is just amazing,” Stachowski said.
“We’re still building,” Bass said. “We played them Week One, they beat us by one. I thought we could play with them. It was just about executing.”
Play of the game: The only way to trump a 95-yard kick return touchdown is to recover a fumble with the other team driving for the go-ahead score to preserve the outcome. Stachowski’s fumble recovery gets the nod as Falls burned the final two minutes off the clock after that recovery at its 10.
Player of the game: Hudson, who missed the season-opening loss to Jamestown. He returned his only kickoff for a score, caught four passes for 52 yards and a TD, and picked up 26 yards and the first down on his only rushing attempt on second and 10 from the Falls 10 after Stachowski’s fumble recovery.
“Jaquan Hudson is a man among boys,” Bass said. “I simply told him when we came out here I said ‘Quan Quan, let them know who you are by the end of this game.’ ”
Excuse me: That wasn’t an onside kick Niagara Falls opened the game with as it normally uses the squib kick on kickoffs. But the Wolverines executed it to perfection nonetheless. Syquan Ralands booted the ball into a spot where there were no Raiders to be found. Teammate Derrell Dennis fell on it to start the Wolverines at the Jamestown 34. Four plays later, quarterback Drew Spurback lofted a high pass down the left side where Hudson jumped and came down with the ball in the end zone for the 30-yard strike.
“I went up and got it and it fell into my hands,” Hudson said.
Jamestown replies: To the Red Raiders’ credit, they dodged a couple of bullets with Falls having a TD called back due to penalty and then missing a field goal to give themselves a chance to overcome a slow start. They finally did it during a second quarter drive in which quarterback Nikk Holland and Zacc Kinsey hooked up for a 60-yard pass play to get Jamestown from its 34 to Falls 6-yard line. That set up Jackson’s 6-yard TD to make it 7-6 with 10:30 left in the second quarter. The PAT kick failed.
Taking it to the house: Falls landed a wicked counterpunch on the kickoff as Hudson caught the ball at his 5 near the middle of the field. He then bolted right and had nothing but daylight as he outran a couple of potential tacklers to get the fans out of their seats. After the PAT kick, Falls had an eight-point lead.
“We thought if we could get them packed in the middle and get to the edge we could catch them,” Bass said. “The first game we ran one back up the middle and figured they’d try to take the middle away from us. They did. He made a good play, kicked it to the outside and then it was a foot race after that.”
“An angel was with me on that one,” Hudson said. “I’m thankful for the people who block for me. On the return as soon as I saw green, it was time to go.”
Jackson takes off: Jamestown pulled within 14-12 as it used its wildcat formation to matriculate the ball downfield with ease. That meant it was pretty much all Jackson all the time as he lined up at quarterback, rushing six times for 47 yards. He capped the 59-yard drive with a 3-yard TD with 8:23 left in the second quarter. Jamestown misfired on the conversion pass, enabling the Wolverines to maintain their advantage.
Survival mode: In a game in which each team committed four turnovers, Falls found the resolve to not let the negative plays break its spirit. Besides the turnovers, the Wolverines had two touchdowns taken off the board due to penalties.
“They didn’t fall down,” Bass said. “They just kept playing. We just kept pushing, kept pushing and said ‘OK, we’ll get this back,’ and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Records: Niagara Falls 6-2, Jamestown 4-4.
Next: Niagara Falls visits Orchard Park in a semifinal clash. Jamestown plays a matchup game against a still to be determined opponent to help underclassmen gain some experience and to perhaps enable the seniors on the team to go out with a win.