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Lackawanna's reward for beating No. 1 seed: exceptional Dunkirk crew

Lackawanna and Dunkirk produced two of the more stunning results during the opening weekend of the Section VI football playoffs.

Fittingly enough, those two teams must go through each other in order to earn a shot at a championship.

The Class B contest between the Steelers and the Marauders is one of 10 semifinals across five classes on the Week Nine docket. All but one of those playoff games are Friday night – including eighth-seeded Lackawanna versus No. 4 Dunkirk. The lone Saturday playoff game has Gowanda visiting Cleveland Hill in Class C.

Winners advance to the Section VI finals in their respective classes next weekend at New Era Field, the former Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Lackawanna hasn’t been to a final since 2010, when it dropped a 14-12 decision to Alden, and last won sectionals in 2008. Dunkirk is vying for its first championship game appearance at the home of the Buffalo Bills.

As well as the Steelers played last week on the road in stunning top-seeded Medina, 16-8, coach Adam Tardif understands his team will need to play even better against Dunkirk. The Marauders most certainly captured the attention of their remaining playoff classmates by crushing former No. 3 News small school and fifth-seeded Maryvale, 59-0.

Dunkirk has won its last six games since opening the season with losses to current unbeatens and fellow Class B semifinalists Cheektowaga and Olean.

“You knock off the one seed and you think you will have a little bit of an easier game; that’s not the case this week,” Tardif said. “Dunkirk is one of the best teams I’ve seen in Class B this season. … We have to play just as well as we did against Medina if not better if we’re going to beat a team like Dunkirk.”

Lackawanna (5-3) relied on a bend-but-not-break-defensive effort in beating a Medina team that captured its first outright division title since 1988 – a Mustangs crew that crushed the Steelers back in Week Two, 48-6. Medina’s only touchdown last Friday came via a pick-six.

Still, what changed six weeks later? Lackawanna got off to a better start.

Tardif credits all involved, including his assistant coaches.

“I think our team has just improved,” Tardif said. “They understand what it means to play four quarters. … Earlier in the season we weren’t coming out (ready to play) in the first quarter.”

Junior quarterback Noble Smith has been a threat running and passing, while twin brother London is coming off a solid all-around game (four catches for 84 yards, two touchdowns, seven tackles and an interception) and also is having a good season. Running backs Khalil Horton and Shakur Snow have performed well, too, with Snow also chipping in on defense. Linebacker Marquez Lofton and defensive tackle Paul Brooks have averaged 10 tackles per game, while Jakwon Ingram has 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.

Lackawanna will need to be sharp again against a Dunkirk team that has averaged 35.5 points per game, including 42.8 during its win streak. The Marauders’ defense allows just 8.1 ppg. Alton Ingram and Juan Damas combined for six touchdowns last week, with Ingram rushing for 146 yards on 14 carries and three TDs.

Meanwhile, Orchard Park hits the road looking to earn another trip to its home away from home – The Ralph. The defending Class AA champions realize it won’t be easy facing a scrappy Clarence team that won its division and is looking to return to the sectional final for the first time since winning the title in 2010.

The Red Devils (6-2) defeated Jamestown, 35-8, in the quarterfinals. OP crafted a 20-point second half in rallying for a 33-19 win over Williamsville North to avoid its third loss in four games.

The Quakers (5-3) may appear vulnerable, but the two defeats have been by a combined 10 points to ranked teams – including current No. 1, unbeaten Lancaster.

“It was just an overall good team victory last week,” OP coach Gene Tundo said. “I’m just excited we’re still playing. I know it will be a hard fought game.”

The Quakers may be somewhat undersized in the trenches compared to past editions but have shown that the biggest dog doesn’t always win. Three weeks ago they rushed for more than 200 yards in a win over Bennett. Last week, quarterback Dillon Janca rushed for 125 yards and three scores. Nico Rapini also ran well, which enabled OP to utilize the skills of fellow running back Josh Dahl – who rushed for a 170 against Bennett – on defense.

“This year we have four guys who are 195 pounds,” Tundo said. “I give a lot of credit to our offensive line and defensive line because they’ve played unbelievable. Some of the teams we’ve played, they’ve outweighed us by 100 pounds (up front). We’ve been in every game we’ve played. … They’re giving us everything they’ve got.”

Other semifinals to keep an eye on include North Tonawanda visiting All High Stadium to face a Bennett team looking to reach the sectional finals for a third year in a row in a different class. Also in Class A, McKinley hits the road to face unbeaten Starpoint at Tudor Stadium. Something has to give when 8-0 Olean faces 8-0 Cheektowaga in Class B. Defending Class D champion and No. 3-seed Franklinville/Ellicottville has a rematch with Silver Creek two weeks after losing a one-point decision to the No. 2 seed.

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