It’s hard to believe that the scholastic football season is all but over.
It seems like teams gathered for their first official practices of the year yesterday – all determined to achieve respective pre-established goals, have fun and, most importantly, create some fond memories that will last a lifetime.
There’s still one game left – Sunday’s state Catholic final between Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association champion Canisius and downstate counterpart Cardinal Hayes at Fordham University. Nonetheless, here are some of the top highlights from the 2016 season.
The rules of the in-season Fab Five column apply here. There are lots of important moments during a season, but some are bigger than others.
Without further ado, and in no particular order:
-- Record-setting quest: Good friends Jerry Hickson of St. Francis and Dillon Janca of Orchard Park each entered the season with a chance to chase down ex-Williamsville South star quarterback Joe Licata’s Western New York career passing yards record (6,671). Hickson, who has been friends with Licata for years, finally passed him on the list during St. Francis’ Week Six triumph over Cardinal O’Hara. Hickson broke the record on a swing pass to Dylan McDuffie late in the second quarter for a 12-yard gain. Hickson completed his four-year career with the Red Raiders with 7,521 passing yards. Janca finished his three-year run with OP with 6,293 yards – good for third all-time.
-- Historic Dunkirk: Three years ago the Marauders failed to win a game. They completed the rise from worst to first by winning their first Section VI title by taking down two-time defending Class B champion Cheektowaga. They followed that with a wild 50-48 overtime win over Batavia in the state quarterfinals. The Marauders became the talk of their town and received great fan support at New Era Field and Cicero-North Syracuse – not exactly a short drive – during their lengthy playoff run.
-- Heartbreak at The Dome: It came down to a two-point conversion in double overtime. Maple Grove failed to stop it as its quest for an unbeaten season and third state championship ended in the Class D final, 22-21, against Cambridge in one of the more entertaining games of state championship weekend at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. It’s the perfect ending to a winner-take-all contest.
-- Big finishes: Week Five’s Lancaster at Orchard Park clash, dubbed by Legends senior Leugim Castillo as “The Michalski Miracle.” Lancaster turned potential defeat into a wild 42-35 victory when Jacob Michalski returned a blocked punt 50 yards for the go-ahead TD with 30 seconds left. Other top finishes: Cheektowaga’s Week Seven rally from a 12-point deficit to beat rival Maryvale, 34-26, in overtime to clinch the Class B West Division title. Silver Creek/Forestville beat Frewsburg 46-40 on the last play of the game – Bill Seiders’ 2-yard TD run in Week Four. Retsen Daley kicked his first career field goal, a 32-yarder, in the final seconds to lift St. Francis to a 24-21 win over Rochester Aquinas in Week Five.
-- Wet and wild week: On a cold, rainy Friday night during Week Eight, teams that thrived in those conditions included Lackawanna, North Tonawanda and Bishop Timon-St. Jude. No. 8 Lackawanna hit the road and stunned Class B top-seed Medina six weeks after it had been crushed by the same Mustangs in Lackawanna. NT won its first playoff game since 2011 as kicker Joe Dotterweich booted two field goals, including a 37-yarder, in the rain on natural grass. Timon handed Canisius its first loss, 7-0, beating the Crusaders for the first time in five years.
-- Welcome back: After missing the 2015 season due to lack of players, Eden/North Collins returned to action as a member of Class C North.
-- Light them up: Sweet Home, Starpoint and Williamsville North were among the latest teams to move their home games from Saturday afternoons to Friday nights as their respective districts completed projected that resulted in either the renovation or the creation of lighted, all-weather surface playing facilities.
-- We are the champions: Section VI postseason winners – Lancaster (Class AA), Bennett (Class A), Dunkirk (Class B), Cleveland Hill (Class C), Maple Grove (Class D). Lancaster won its first title since 1999 and Cleve Hill since 2013.
-- Revenge tour II: Canisius not only avenged its regular-season loss to Timon by beating the Tigers in MMHSAA semifinals but also gained a measure of revenge by defeating St. Francis for the title one year after the Red Raiders had ended the Crusaders’ three-year reign as postseason champions.
-- Revenge tour III: The Monsignor Martin teams have usually had a tough time taking down Rochester-power Aquinas in nonleague games. They collectively gained a measure of revenge this season as Canisius, Timon and St. Francis all defeated the Little Irish to prevent the 2015 state Class AA champions from qualifying for the Section V postseason.