This is a rather unusual position for Kenmore West.
For most of the past decade-plus, the Blue Devils would be gearing up for the Section VI Tournament after their annual Rivalry Week showdown with Kenmore East.
That’s not the case this year, as a less experienced-than-usual batch of Blue Devils have lost their way in the standings because they have had trouble finishing what they started on the field. They put themselves in positions to win, only to make enough mistakes to experience a frustrating conclusion.
Just as it seemed like the script of past defeats to Sweet Home, Williamsville South and Williamsville East were about to play out again Saturday afternoon, Joseph Stewart and company said enough is enough via their actions down the stretch in this Class A North clash.
Kenmore West snapped its five-game losing streak by winning its biggest game of the season, defeating rival Kenmore East in 21-18 nail-biting fashion before a crowd of more than 3,000 at Crosby Field on an unseasonably warm fall day.
Stewart’s 24-yard touchdown run with 9 minutes, 36 seconds left after the Bulldogs had surged ahead gave West the lead for good. The Blue Devils, coming off a string of consecutive playoff appearances, had their second feel-good moment of what has been a tough 2017 campaign.
The first came a long time ago on opening week, when Kenmore West defeated Class AA playoff-bound Niagara Falls in its first game in its newly renovated home facility.
“It felt great today getting that win and being such a big part of it,” said Stewart, a junior who rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, made eight tackles and recorded an interception.
“It was something we talked about in the locker room before we came out was to leave a lasting memory for this team and the seniors,” West coach John Haynes said. “Beginning of the season we won our first game on the (new) field and the first rivalry game they’ve won.”
The Blue Devils did it by overcoming a pair of potentially costly turnovers inside the red zone in the third quarter by ending Kenmore East’s final two drives with interceptions.
Stewart made one of them near his own 35 on a ball thrown into double coverage. He also put teammate Cameron Crosier in position to pick off the Bulldogs’ final pass attempt with under 2 minutes left in Blue Devils territory by breaking up a potential first-down catch on a third-down play with a nice over the middle hit on the Bulldogs receiver.
“Joe Stewart is a heck of a football player,” Haynes said. “When he gets the opportunity, he gets going. … You put the ball in his hands and something can happen every single play.”
Something did happen with the ball in Stewart’s hands early in the second quarter when West broke a scoreless tie on his 11-yard run. He also ran in the conversion.
Kenmore East, which had lost the last two meetings with the Blue Devils by a combined score of 103-18 after a 7-0 win in 2014, responded with an eight-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Nathan Murdie’s 1-yard TD run. The biggest play of the possession was Murdie’s 31-yard pass connection with Nicholas Colburn.
Kenmore West (2-5) scored on its next possession, a 4-yard run by Eddie Vona, on a drive that featured a 33-yard hook-and-ladder play with Stewart taking the lateral from Jacob Poumitt. The Bulldogs (1-6) responded before halftime, pulling within 14-12 on Murdie’s 18-yard pass to Brandon Baker.
When East surged ahead early in the fourth quarter on D’Anzo Young’s 56-yard touchdown run, the visiting Bulldogs put themselves in position to win for just the third time since 2014.
In a rivalry game where a win can make a team’s losing season feel a whole lot better, Stewart and his Kenmore West teammates had reasons to smile as they finally found that finishing kick.
“It’s a learning process and takes time,” Haynes said. “It’s what they learn from it and they go to the next game and hopefully we just keep on going forward.”
Both teams will play matchup games in Week Eight against fellow non-playoff teams still to be determined.
“We’ve arrived at that point where we’re competitive but like I was saying to these guys sometimes I think we lack that confidence just to make that one more big play to get us over the hump,” East coach Pat Veltri said.