The only thing that stood between Kenmore West making it to the Section VI Class AA final last year was a final defensive stand. The Blue Devils failed to deliver in that moment.
It’s a memory that haunted them until Saturday, when the Blue Devils could seemingly do no wrong during the big moments of their Section VI Class AA semifinal against Lancaster.
An estimated 3,000 at Crosby Field watched Kenmore West deliver the plays one would expect from a championship contender during its 44-21 triumph over the Legends. On a brisk, cloudy autumn day in Kenmore, the Blue Devils gave their faithful plenty of warm memories – from Terrell Ford’s four second-half touchdowns to the improbable goal-line stand that will forever be part of Blue and White lore – in advancing to their first sectional final since 1996.
“This is a great win for not just the team but the program as a whole,” said Ford, who rushed for a game-high 183 yards on 22 carries, scoring on runs of 44, 1 and 72 yards during the Devils’ 21-point fourth quarter. “It’s been 19 years. We finally accomplished it after three years of coming up short.”
Kenmore West (8-1) will face Orchard Park (8-1) for the championship at 8 p.m. Friday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The game will be a rematch of the teams’ Week One encounter won by the Quakers, 28-0.
“It’s a great moment,” said longtime coach Rich Harris, who guided Kenmore West to its seventh semifinal appearance in the last nine seasons. “This has been a monkey on our back. … We’ve gone away very disappointed especially last year with Orchard Park driving the field on us … to send us out of here. It’s been a long 12 months for us to get back here and to have another shot at this. I couldn’t ask for a better team to do it with. These guys have bought in. Great leadership and a lot of athletic talent.”
Don’t forget a lot of determination, which the Blue Devils displayed big time when Lancaster threatened to seize control in the third quarter.
Alex Heist blocked a punt that somehow managed to be recovered at Kenmore West’s 1 instead of in the end zone where the block occurred. The Blue Devils were leading, 23-14, with 5:46 left in the third quarter.
It’s the moment Lancaster (6-3), the second-highest-scoring Class AA team in the area, had been waiting for, except the unthinkable happened. Three plays from the 1 produced minus-2 yards, with Charlie Milks wrapping up Zach Samborski for a 2-yard loss on third-and-goal from the 1. A fourth-down pass from Dan Speyer fell incomplete.
“When you’re playing a tough bunch like that, you have to match their intensity,” lamented Legends coach Chris Dickson.
“Every play they went backwards,” Harris said. “We call it bullying your triggerman. You have to go on the goal line and that’s what we were doing. That’s what we did down there and made some great defensive plays.”
Lancaster did pull within 23-21 with 11:29 left on a 1-yard run by Speyer, but it was all Ford after that.
He scored on a 44-yard run out of the wildcat less than two minutes later. He gave fans a reason to believe it was over with 6:25 left when he bullied his way into the end zone from the 1. Fifty-two seconds later, after a Mark Taylor interception, Ford all but ended it with a 72-yard scoring run.
“Big players make big-time plays in big games. That’s what I’ve been telling myself the whole week,” said Ford, who also had a 65-yard TD catch three plays into the third quarter to make it 23-14. He finished with three receptions for 98 yards.
“Some of those runs, he had people all over him,” Harris said of Ford. “He gets rid of people and then when he breaks free it’s over. He ran the ball really tough, even those short 4 and 5 yarders. ... And he plays great on defense. He’s one of the best in Western New York.”
The Blue Devils opened the game about as poorly as a team could, giving up a 57-yard touchdown run on the first offensive play of the game to Lancaster star tailback Samborski (17 carries, 88 yards).
Kenmore West replied with a 13-play, 65-yard drive in which senior quarterback DeAngelo Walker-Johnson scored from the 1. Lancaster surged ahead, 14-6, on its next possession as L.G. Castillo scored on a 2-yard run and Alex Damiani caught the conversion pass.
The Blue Devils scored the next 17 points to seize control, a 23-yard field goal by Sean McDonough, a 5-yard TD run by Jayson Taylor for a 16-14 halftime lead and Ford’s 65-yard TD catch and run.
“I can’t describe this feeling right now,” Walker-Johnson said.