Clarence waited five weeks for the chance to play a home football game, but after Friday night’s performance it could be a long time before the Red Devils hit the road, again.
They have no problem with that.
On a night in which the school showed off its renovated football facility – complete with new all-weather surface, scoreboard and bleachers – the Red Devils basked in the spotlight and earned perhaps their biggest win since 2010 by defeating Williamsville North, 14-6, in a battle between Class AA North contenders. An estimated 2,000 watched as Clarence won a defensive struggle and gained inside position toward securing at least one home playoff game.
The Red Devils remain the only unbeaten team in the division and can clinch Class AA North outright with a win over Kenmore West next Friday during Homecoming. A loss opens the door for sharing the crown with either North or Niagara Falls, but Clarence owns wins over both of those teams.
“That was a goal all season,” said senior linebacker Zach Frey, who scored the game’s first touchdown by returning a fumble 30 yards late in the second quarter. “Our biggest goal was to play on this field as much as possible.”
“It was a fantastic experience just being the first team to play on the new field and first team to win on it,” senior Sean Kloss said.
The News’ No. 6 Large School wasted little time getting comfortable. The Red Devils got a rise from the fans after executing a fake punt, with running back John Stevens completing a 20-yard pass on fourth and 9 from midfield to Alex Sweeney, on the game’s opening drive.
That counts as the offensive highlight of the first half for both teams, though, as Clarence amassed just 57 yards but held No. 8 North to negative 19.
The Red Devils recorded six sacks and made two of their four takeaways for the game prior to intermission. Kloss took down North quarterbacks three times, but fellow senior Alec Davies made the biggest sack of the game.
That came with 4 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first half as Davies stripped the ball from sophomore quarterback Joe Nusall. Frey picked up the fumble and ran to pay dirt to the delight of the red and black faithful.
“Coach sent us on a blitz,” Frey said. “Alec Davies was able to get there, he caused the whole thing. … I was just in position to pick it up and run.”
“We thought if we could pressure their quarterback that would be an important part of the game,” said Clarence coach Mark Layer, as the aggression eliminated the Spartans’ big-play ability. “Our defense was exceptional. They have a lot of weapons and we did a good job containing their kids.”
North’s defense wasn’t too shabby either as it held the Red Devils’ spread in check, prompting Layer to turn to the double-wing formation. The methodical offense may not be exciting to watch but when executed properly it can make a defense’s life miserable.
Clarence’s double-wing did just that after the Spartans had pulled within 7-6 on Jason Hwang’s 1-yard keeper run to cap the opening drive of the third quarter. The Red Devils milked more than nine minutes off the clock on the 19-play drive in which they nickeled and dimed their way 81 yards. Jake Reger capped it with a 5-yard touchdown with 6:20 left. Perhaps the biggest play of that possession turned out to be Clarence opting to go for it on fourth and 1 from its own 39. Reger motioned and gained 2 yards on the rushing play. That was one of two fourth-down-and-short conversions on the drive with Reger carrying the ball both times.
“We needed to change something offensively,” Layer said. “The kids just exerted their will.”
Reger and Jack Shaver intercepted Jason Hwang passes on North’s final two drives to give Clarence the chance to assume the victory formation for the first time at home.
The Red Devils have only given up 44 points through five games but holding a physical Spartans team to six points is bound to open lots of eyes.
“We came in with the mentality that we couldn’t let up,” said Reger, who also rushed 22 times for 93 yards. “There’s no place I’d rather be than with this defense right now.”
There’s no place the Red Devils (5-0, 4-0) would rather be than on their home field from here on out as they are off to their best start since winning the Section VI title in 2010. There’s still much work remaining for Clarence, but the blending of experienced veterans along with newcomers from last year’s eight-win junior varsity team has been flawless – much like the team’s home surroundings.
“I think there’s a big benefit in leaving a group of kids together,” Layer said. “You want to have a winning culture. When you get the experience of winning (on JV) there can be some carryover. … They know how to win.”
The team delivered that message loud and clear in sending North to its second straight loss, something that last happened back in 2013.
“It was a great ball game,” Williamsville North coach Mike Mammoliti said. “Two tough opponents. … There are no weak sisters in this division.”
North (3-2, 2-1) plays its second home game at its new all-weather surface facility Friday against Niagara Falls (3-1, 2-1) in a Class AA North contest that could determine which team plays at home and which one hits the road for the playoffs.