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Prep Talk: Newfane among playoff contenders who have feasted on competition

Like the winning they have been doing on the football field, it's been a common sight seeing Newfane players holding impromptu grilling sessions.

It's not barbecue mind you. It is Panthers giving each other pop quizzes on game plans formulated by their coaches. Whether it's just one teammate bumping into another in the hallway or several gathering together, they are in a collective football state of mind.

It's resulted in the Panthers (6-1) feasting on their competition in ways that haven't happened in decades.

"They just go around the school and quiz themselves on looks and play calls," Newfane coach Chuck Nagel said. "They're like sponges. I'm a teacher at the high school so I hear it all the time. It's pretty neat."

What's also pretty neat from a blue-and-white perspective: How about Newfane qualifying for the Section VI playoffs? Before this season, it's something that last happened when Nagel was a wide receiver for the Panthers back in 1993.

That season, Newfane was ranked No. 2 among small schools heading into the postseason but lost a tough one, 12-6, to Salamanca. The difference in that one, according to Nagel, the Warriors mounted a defensive stand and kept the Panthers out of the end zone after they earned first-and-goal from the 4.

Newfane is a No. 5 seed in Class B this year. It enters Friday night's quarterfinal at fourth-seeded Maryvale – which was ranked No. 1 among small schools last week until suffering its first loss of the season to Cheektowaga – in a spot it relishes. It's on the road.

The Panthers are unbeaten away from their den, winning all four games beginning with an attention-getting rout of defending division champion Medina back in Week Three. Can Newfane, winner of six straight, keep it up against a Flyers team looking to atone not only for last week's loss but last year's one-and-done playoff appearance that followed a similar Week Seven defeat at the hands of their rival?

In Class AA, has Orchard Park figured things out to the point where it could make another run at playing for a title at its home away from home – New Era Field? Is there a Class AA team that can hang with Lancaster or for that matter, West Seneca West in Class A?

Here's a class by class look at this year's 40-team Section VI Tournament, with 17 of the 20 games slated for Friday night.

Class AA

Favorite: Lancaster (7-0).

The Legends are the defending champion and have several key players back looking for a repeat, including quarterback Ryan Mansell, receiver/defensive back Max Giordano and inside linebackers Joe Andreessen and Ben Damiani. Lancaster has not lost to a Section VI opponent since the 2015 semifinals. That's a run of 17 straight wins within the 7-1-6.

Sleepers: Perennial contender Orchard Park, which is trying to reach the stadium formerly known as "The Ralph" for the fourth year in a row and 22nd time overall. Quakers have won three straight since a three-point loss at Williamsville North dropped them to 1-3. That brings us to the other sleeper, North.

Unusual that an unbeaten team and No. 2 seed qualifies as a sleeper but in this case the Spartans (7-0) do simply because they didn't draw Lancaster on their schedule, so there's a slight unknown as to how the young but talented team would match up against the experienced Legends. Then there's the fact Lancaster has crushed its foes by an average score of 47-12.

Must-see quarterfinal: No. 5 Jamestown at No. 4 Clarence. Call this the rubber match as these teams have seen a lot of each other the past year. Clarence ended Jamestown's season via rout in the quarterfinals last year. Jamestown (4-3) crushed Clarence (4-3) at Strider Field during a regular-season meeting as part of its 4-0 start. Clarence, under first-year coach Paul Burgio, has won three of its last five since that 37-0 loss to the Red Raiders. Another plus for the Red Devils, they don't have to make a two-hour trip to play the game.

Class A

Favorites: West Seneca West and Grand Island are the No. 1 seeds.

West (7-0) earned a share of the Class A South Division title while ending a lengthy postseason drought. Senior quarterback Matt Myers has directed an offense that has scored at least 35 points in each of the team's seven games. The Indians are coming off their closest game of the season, a 35-28 win over West Seneca East.

Grand Island (6-1) yielded the second-fewest points in all of Class A and has seemingly been playing quasi-playoff football since a Week Four loss to Williamsville South in order to earn the Class A North title and a No. 1 seed.

Sleeper: South Park (7-0). The unbeaten Sparks did not draw WSW during the regular season due to the classification having more teams than league games. They earned a share of the division title with West. South Park also allowed the fewest points in Class A with a defensive line anchored by two-time first-team All-Western New York pick Jeremiah Sanders.

Must-see quarterfinal: No. 3 Iroquois at second-seeded Starpoint: Two teams that like to ground and pound. Spartans have a vertical attack to keep foes honest, but quarterback Aaron Chase missed last week's close nonleague win over winless Lockport with an undisclosed injury. He's a game-time decision.

Class B

Favorites: Any of the top three seeds: 1. Lackawanna, 2. Cheektowaga, 3. Dunkirk. All are 6-1.

Lackwanna yielded the fewest points in Class B (7.0 ppg) and scored around 32 points per, while Cheektowaga is trying to reach its fourth straight championship game. Dunkirk is the defending champion.

Sleeper: Newfane. The Panthers scored the most points in all of Class B (253) and yielded the third fewest (98). Big line that features Connor Hill, Ty Casinelli and Jonah Wisniewski has opened holes for 1,000-yard rushers Brandon Gross and Julian Nixon.

Must-see quarterfinal: Newfane at Maryvale (6-1). Battle of Panthers' triple-option against the Flyers' Wing-T. Both teams have weapons, with Rashad Law a threat to run and catch out of the backfield and throw as he showed last week in completing a 50-yard touchdown for Maryvale.

Class C

Favorite: Cleveland Hill (6-1). The defending champion has won six straight since a close loss in its season opener against Maryvale. The Golden Eagles have crushed their past three foes by a combined score of 154-12 en route to winning North Division. They also own a win over Class C South Division champion Southwestern.

Sleeper: Wilson (4-3). The No. 2 seed out of the North gets a home playoff game and has won three of its last four. The Lakemen also have a solid quarterback in junior Steven Frerichs.

Must-see quarterfinal: Just for contrasting styles, No. 4 Akron at Southwestern. It's a long trip for the Tigers for sure, but it's their running offense versus the vertical attack of last year's Class C runner-up. Thousand-yard rusher Jake Sarow has amassed more than 500 yards the past two weeks and has scored nine TDs. Cole Snyder leads a strong passing attack for the Trojans but doesn't force his throws into coverage and rarely gets picked off.

Class D

Favorite: Franklinville/Ellicottville (8-0). The Titans scored the third-most points in Section VI (288), behind Lancaster (329) and West Seneca West (312). Class D is traditionally strong in these parts, so that's an attention-getting stat. Also, several players were on basketball team that reached state final four last winter. That counts for something in scholastic sports.

Sleeper: Clymer/Sherman/Panama (5-2), whose only losses came against fellow state-ranked teams F/E and Maple Grove. C/S/P had a brief lead on Maple Grove before the Red Dragons seized control.

Must-see quarterfinal: Nothing says must-see playoff game like a clash between rivals. With that, the football gods present Maple Grove hosting Randolph/Frewsburg. They have a combined seven state championships (Randolph five of them before this year's emergency merger with Frewsburg). One of them usually has to go through the other at some point to make a long playoff run.

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