One of the questions being asked within the walls of Lancaster High School is somewhat controversial.
Who's the better football player – Joe Andreessen or Ben Damiani?
It's quite the tough question to answer since both are strong, determined, special players with game-changing abilities.
Andreessen and Damiani left their imprints all over the Legends' latest conquest of Orchard Park. They combined for three touchdowns, two blocked kicks and countless tackles in leading defending Section VI champion Lancaster to a 43-20 triumph Friday night at Foyle/Kling Field.
A crowd of more than 3,500 attended the rematch of last year's Class AA final and watched the co-No. 1 Buffalo News large school Legends score their third straight win over one of the area's signature power programs. While several players on both sides have graduated from last November's championship-game encounter at New Era Field, Andreessen and Damiani weren't among them.
The returning All-Western New York linebackers figured to be impact players for the Legends (3-0, 3-0 division) and both flaunted their game-changing abilities against the Quakers (1-2, 1-1).
They were among the reasons OP struggled to move the ball (155 total yards -- including first-half numbers of minus-8 yards rushing and 29 total yards). Their ability to blitz made it tough for the Quakers to pass the ball.
Andreessen and Damiani finished with nine tackles apiece and each blocked a kick. Damiani recorded three tackles for losses and a sack to go with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown. Andreesen had a tackle for a loss, half a sack and scored on touchdown runs of 4 and 3 yards out of the wildcat – an unusual site with Andreessen, the starting right tackle, lining up at quarterback wearing No. 62.
"They're just better, they have their Superman bodies now," Orchard Park coach Gene Tundo said of the Lancaster seniors. "You can do a lot of good things with two good inside backers on defense. They run well sideline to sideline. You can't run inside. They were blitzing the heck out of us. I don't think our pass protection was great early but maybe they had something to do with it."
Then there's the impact Lancaster's dynamic duo made on special teams.
Andreessen blocked a field goal deep in Lancaster territory in the first quarter after Orchard Park recovered a fumble at the Legends' 12 and had a chance to put up the first points by either team in the game. Damiani then blocked another short field-goal attempt in the second quarter just after Lancaster had taken the lead on Andreessen's 4-yard touchdown.
For those keeping track, Lancaster has already blocked two punts and two kicks this season after finishing last year with impressive totals of seven blocked punts and two blocked kicks.
"It's something we practice all the time," Legends coach Eric Rupp said. "It's one of the three phases. We spend as much time practicing that as we do offense and defense."
Special teams enabled Lancaster to take a 15-0 lead into halftime as OP did a solid job of slowing down an offense that entered Friday averaging 51 points per game. Max Giordano returned a punt 75 yards for a score with just over two minutes left in the first half, spinning to his left to avoid one tackle and then seeing nothing but daylight between him and the end zone after that.
That set the stage for the Legends' 28-point second half. Andrew Hersey rushed for 126 of his 208 yards after halftime with a significant chunk of that yardage coming in the third quarter when he scored on runs of 17 and 5 yards. The second TD capped a drive in which he rushed three times for 55 yards and proved to be the perfect response after OP pulled within 22-6 on a sensational one-handed, lunging 3-yard TD catch by Nic Bruce.
Andressen rushed for a 3-yard TD the first play of the fourth quarter and when Damiani returned an interception shortly after that not only was the outcome no longer in doubt, but folks were assured the debate would rage on.
Who's the better football player: Andreessen or Damiani?
"I'm not going to say I'm better. He's not going to say he's better," Damiani said. "People ask that question all the time. We get ragged on in school about it but we just love each other, want to play hard and we play for each other. … We're both two competitive players who love the game of football and want to go to the next level. It's just about having fun out there and playing for your brothers."
"We're both great linebackers," added Andreessen.
"They are the heartbeat of our team," Rupp said. "They're both great kids."
Lancaster returns to action next Saturday at noon at Niagara Falls, while Orchard Park visits Williamsville North on Friday.