Cheektowaga wasn’t too happy with its first-half performance against Burgard on Saturday, despite having the lead.
The Bulldogs weren’t exactly satisfied, either.
But in the second half, the Warriors played like the top-ranked small school team in Western New York, and Burgard couldn’t keep up. Cheektowaga scored 28 points in the last 24 minutes to take a 35-14 decision.
It was a good-sized matchup of the two teams that had played for the Section VI Class B championship. Cheektowaga won that one, too. The rematch wasn’t as close.
“They are a very good team,” Warriors’ coach Mike Fatta said about the Bulldogs. “They are always tough to beat. We didn’t play well in the first half. We didn’t execute. I don’t know if we had the jitters, but we have to do a better job and wrap up a little better.”
Both sides were left muttering about some missed opportunities in the first half. Cheektowaga was on the Burgard side of the field on its first four possessions, and came up empty each time. The drives ended on a punt, a fourth-down failure, an interception and a fumble.
On the other hand, the Bulldogs were called for a facemask violation on the second play from scrimmage. That set a tone for the day.
Early in the second quarter, Anthony Maple threw a shovel pass to Dajean McCullough in the backfield, and McCullough took off on a 72-yard sprint that looked like the game’s first score. However, a penalty forced Burgard to make the long walk back to their own their own 23-yard line.
Burgard coach Jason Kolb will be thinking about such penalties for a while.
“That’s going to happen to a young football team,” he said. “It’s a big game, with lots of fans, a band − a college atmosphere. The jitters didn’t get out early enough. Hopefully they gain experience from this. We knew it was going to be tough.”
Cheektowaga did get one first-half score on a 3-yard run by quarterback Eric Bartnik, but no one in a maroon uniform was happy at halftime.
“We had a team talk at halftime, saying that we have to score,” Bartnik said. “We couldn’t turn the ball over.”
Cheektowaga came out in the second half determined to change that situation. The Warriors marched 75 yards on six plays, scoring on a 5-yard run by Seven Turpin.
Cheektowaga couldn’t take advantage of an interception in Burgard territory on its next possession, but took the ball in for a score a few minutes later. Turpin went 4 yards for the TD. That made it 21-0 with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter, digging a large hole for the Bulldogs.
Burgard got a little life from a touchdown pass from Anthony Maple to McCullough late in the third quarter. But with about eight minutes left, Michael Gray swept around left end for Cheektowaga. The 5-foot-4 running back didn’t stop until he had run 52 yards for a touchdown that put the game away.
“That was a great way to secure the win,” Bartnik said. “That was nice to see.”
“Michael is invaluable to our team,” Fatta said. “He doesn’t get the first reps all the time, but he’s there when we need him. We’ve got to give him more looks.”
Bartnik finished 17 of 31 for 170 passing yards and a touchdown; he also ran for 117 yards and a score. Stephen Parker caught eight passes for 97 yards.
McCullough ran for another score, an amazing 10-yard run in which he seemed surrounded at the line of scrimmage but somehow escaped. Despite McCullough’s play, Burgard certainly missed Dominic Prince. The running back/linebacker sat out after he was ejected from last week’s game.
“We were missing one of our best players and that took a toll on us,” Kolb said.
“It would have made things a lot closer and helped us in the first half.”
Cheektowaga stays at home next week for a Friday night game with Iroquois.
Burgard hosts Maryvale at All-High Stadium on Saturday.