Ask Nick Jones what makes the Dunkirk football team's offensive line such a dominant force, and he'll tell you discipline.
Marauders coach Mike Sarratori lauded the group's athleticism and swift feet.
Get all of those facets blending together perfectly and the byproduct is how Dunkirk looked Saturday night, when Alton Ingram ran for 224 yards and three touchdowns to lead a Dunkirk offense that gashed Cheektowaga for 421 rushing yards.
The ground dominance gave fourth-seeded Dunkirk a 46-35 victory over No. 2 Cheektowaga in the Section VI Class B finals before an estimated crowd of 1,800 at New Era Field. The Marauders' power running game, led by the blocking of Jones, Chauval Black, Andrew Vetter, Jaziah Rivera, Peyton Moreland, Jamall Gaines and Elwin Gomez, halted Cheektowaga's pursuit of a third straight Class B title.
Dunkirk's meticulous preparation in practice set the stage for its huge performance in the program's first-ever appearance at the Bills' home. Its gutsy triumph was highlighted by a game-clinching 63-yard scoring drive that chewed 6:59 off the clock — leaving the Warriors less than a minute to overcome an 11-point deficit.
“It just shows that we’re disciplined," said Jones, the center. "At practice we run everything down to a T and we won’t move on until we do. We won’t take 421 yards and be satisfied with that.”
“It’s 100 percent the line," quarterback Evon Hernandez said. "This is their win.”
It was the Marauders’ first Section VI title since at least 1979, which is as far back as the records stretch on the section's website.
The Marauders (8-2) have won eight straight while Cheektowaga (9-1), the News' No. 1 Small School and second-ranked Class B squad in the state entering, lost for the first time as its two-year control of the class ended. The Warriors' 21-game winning streak against Western New York competition also expired with the defeat.
Dunkirk did an impressive job of holding off a Warriors team that went to the states semifinals each of the last two years and has made a habit of sectional-final comebacks — Cheektowaga scored 33 fourth-quarter points to stun Bennett with a miracle win in 2014 and rallied after falling behind 16-0 a year ago to down Burgard for the title.
The Marauders have an abundance of determination, too, though. How else can you explain Dunkirk doing a complete 180 the last three years, going from winless in 2013 to now being a win away from states?
“It’s a special group," said Sarratori, whose team battled back from an early 14-0 hole. "We were down and we could have given up real quick. They didn’t give up.
"I’m a little numb right now. It’s been a long time. A lot of stuff has happened.”
Juan Damas added 98 rushing yards and a score for the winners while Hernandez ran for 42 yards and two TDs, including the last one of the night, on that near seven-minute drive that secured the championship. The Marauders were 5 of 6 on two-point conversions.
Dunkirk's ground-and-pound attack was clicking on all cylinders and got a handful of players into the mix as Isiah Velez (35 yards) and Tywon Wright (22 yards) also contributed.
“We’ve been going 300-400 yards (rushing) every game," Sarratori said. "This time of year, a lot of teams are running spread offenses and they don’t see our offense a lot, which is a benefit to us. It’s hard work for them, every single play, we’re going to strap it on and come at you. But they’re used to it now.”
Both offenses were on pace to break the single-game sectional final points record of 54 at halftime. Dunkirk led, 32-28, at the break of a contest that had a profusion of offense and a dearth of defense.
Things slowed down after that and the Marauders pulled away by taking the game out of the hands of the Warriors' talented playmakers, namely quarterback Eric Bartnik and wide receiver Stephan Parker.
Bartnik was 22 of 37 for 294 yards with two TDs and two interceptions while Parker caught 10 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Bartnik added 63 yards and a score on the ground.
But most of their damage was done in the first half. Cheektowaga scored just seven points in the second half, with Michael Gray III's touchdown narrowing his team's deficit to 40-35 with 8:50 left.
Dunkirk had three second-half possessions of over five minutes while the Warriors hardly possessed the ball. Not that scoring points is harmful, but the Marauders' pair of one-play drives that each resulted in a 60-plus-yard touchdown in the first half gave Cheektowaga's prolific offense a lot of opportunity.
A different game played out in the final 24 minutes, and Dunkirk's ball-control approach was so effective that even the comeback Warriors couldn't find a way to overcome it.
“We talked at halftime. We needed to run the clock," Sarratori said. "We were having trouble slowing them down in the first half. We knew we couldn’t control them forever. We knew we had to keep it in our hands.”
Dunkirk is scheduled to face Section V’s Batavia (10-0) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at New Era Field in Far West Regionals. Batavia has won the Section V Class B title three straight years.