The Jamestown Red Raiders have had a whole lot of fun breaking in something new while doing something that never gets old.
The classic AstroTurf rug at Strider Field is no more. In its place is synthetic all-weather surface A-turf. It's safer than the course rug (softer, easier on the joints) and enables the Red Raiders to play a slightly faster game since they no longer have to worry about footing issues – especially in slick conditions.
"It's awesome," coach Tom Langworthy said of the new field.
Awesome is an adjective that can describe the Red Raiders' season to this point. They look like contenders again in Class AA after an un-Jamestown-like year in 2016, as the 2017 season's midway point has already passed us.
That right there is proof the scholastic football season moves pretty fast. Hard to believe the playoffs start in four weeks – especially considering the recent heat wave in the area that has made it feel more like the middle of summer instead of early autumn.
The temperature will start to cool, but the intensity will heat up, that much is certain.
First, what have we learned through the first month of the season?
- Class AA looks a bit top heavy with defending champion Lancaster leading the charge, as the state's second-ranked team has crushed all comers – including Section VI runner-up Orchard Park. The next game the Legends fail to score more than 40 points will be the first.
- Cheektowaga, West Seneca and Williamsville teams have shined so brightly that folks in those municipalities may have to choose which playoff games to attend once the Section VI Tournament begins Oct. 20.
- Class B looks like it'll be a bear as usual during the playoffs, but so, too, does Class A.
- Familiar faces continue to shine in Classes C and D.
- A dozen teams head into Week Five action with unbeaten records.
That includes Jamestown, which plays perhaps the biggest game of the week at 7 p.m. Thursday when it gets to step foot on its home turf again – this time against fellow unbeaten Williamsville North in Class AA. The winner has the inside track at possibly securing home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Jamestown and North both came into season looking to improve on results that weren't up to the standards of their respective programs. Jamestown has quadrupled last year's win total, while North has matched it.
"What's been different?" Langworthy said of this season compared to last. "I just think our character and toughness are back to where they need to be and also so is accountability. Those are the things we stressed in the offseason."
Leading the resurgence for the Red Raiders, who haven't advanced beyond the sectional quarterfinals since winning the state title in 2014, has been third-year players Andrew Pumford, Noah Turzillo and Kanin Tanner, along with running backs Gavin Bowen and Savon Vansickle.
North has size in the trenches and skilled players led by quarterback Joe Nusall, running back Marquel Wells and receiver Dylan Kelly. It has won by wearing down its foe, something Mike Mammoliti's charges look to keep on doing.
Jamestown still has to play Lancaster (at Strider Field in Week Six) and visit OP, while North has to face Frontier and Niagara Wheatfield.
West Seneca West is the odds-on favorite to at least win a share of the South Division. West and South Park both have 4-0 marks and are unbeaten in division play. They don't face each other during the regular season, which means a tiebreaker will be used to determine the top seed should they finish with identical records. South Park has a slightly tougher schedule in an eight-team division than West.
While West is off to a perfect start, its town rival West Seneca East also is in the hunt for the division at 3-1. East meets West in Week Seven. Iroquois also is 3-1 in the division and has a key clash against South Park on Friday.
In the North, two-time division champion Starpoint looks like it's still the team to beat although it has a tough one at Grand Island on Friday. Spartans have increased their point totals in each game since putting up 35 in their season opener. Four teams appear to be battling for the other three playoff spots in this division: GI, Sweet Home, Williamsville East and Williamsville South.
While the B-1 division crown likely will come down to the Week Seven Rivalry Week clash between Maryvale and Cheektowaga, Class B-2 bears watching with defending Section VI champion Dunkirk and Albion entering the weekend 4-0 overall and 3-0 in division play. They meet in Week Six at Dunkirk. Class B-3 seems to be Lackawanna's to lose after its win at Medina last weekend. The Steelers also have wins over Newfane and Alden, who meet this weekend with the winner improving its odds of qualifying for the postseason.
Folks got a championship rematch and a potential championship preview rolled up into one last Saturday at Cleveland Hill. The defending champion Golden Eagles edged Southwestern, 12-0.
Still, beware of JFK as 22 of the 30 players on the team are seniors, led by quarterback James Bailey, who is two marks shy of holding all of the school's passing records. Akron also can't be discounted with RB Jake Sarow and WR Robbie PeQueen.
Unbeaten Franklinville/Ellicottville leads the division at 3-0 and handed defending Section VI champion Maple Grove its first loss to a Western New York team since 2013. The Titans appear poised to make a run at their second sectional title in three years. Still, never discount Maple Grove with veteran coach Curt Fischer. Clymer/Sherman/Panama also is in the mix, off to a 4-0 start like F/E and 2-0 in the division. Don't sleep on Randolph/Frewsburg (1-3). Since all the teams make the playoffs in Class D, the emergency merged outfit should be comfortable with each other and perhaps playing its best football when it matters most.
West Seneca schools' combined 7-1 mark through four weeks is impressive but it's not the only community whose teams should be talking proud.
The four schools in Cheektowaga have gone 13-3 with Class B-1 Maryvale off to a 4-0 start. Cheektowaga is 3-1 overall with its loss to Class A school Sweet Home. Maryvale earned a comeback win at Cleveland Hill, which is 3-1. Cleve Hill's other town rival, fellow Class C North-member and leader John F. Kennedy, is also 3-1. It's the second straight season all four have been in the postseason hunt through four games. All of them made it last year.
Williamsville's three teams are 9-3. Four of the five Buffalo Public Schools teams stand at least .500 or better.
Msgr. Martin update
The Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association playoffs don't start until Week 10, but defending state Catholic champion Canisius (3-1) is off to a fine start and ranked sixth in Class AA the state poll. St. Joe's has lost two straight after a 2-0 start. St. Francis is learning on the fly at 1-3. St. Mary's is 3-1, while Cardinal O'Hara and Bishop Timon-St. Jude are still searching for their first "Ws."
There's still plenty of season left for Association members but don't blink. The season goes by pretty fast.