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Prep Talk: Blackwell's catch sparked Maryvale rally

Playoff games are filled with peaks and valleys, but sometimes all it takes is one play to help a football team go from wondering whether it can get the job done to feeling like it's their time to shine.

Maryvale had such a moment during the third quarter of last Friday's Section VI Class B quarterfinal against Newfane. Trailing 15-6 and needing a first down to extend a possession, the Flyers did so with a familiar name showing that his playmaking skills aren't just limited to the basketball court.

Ray Blackwell literally rose to the occasion to make a highlight-reel, one-handed circus catch to keep hope alive on a possession that eventually ended with a Maryvale touchdown. The Flyers won the game, 18-15.

In case you missed it or haven't seen the clip make the rounds on social media, the catch was a thing of beauty. On third-and-long, sophomore quarterback Connor Desiderio threw a high, deep pass in the direction of Blackwell. The 5-foot-7 senior overran his route but made up for it by leaping high in the air over the defender and got his left hand on the ball. As he began his descent to the ground where he landed on his back, he knocked the ball into his right hand and secured the catch with his left before hitting the turf for the 30-plus yard gain, a first down, plenty of cheers and a whole lot of folks exclaiming, "Oh my!"

"That catch swung it in our favor for good," Maryvale coach Jeff Buccieri said. "It gave us more hope.

"We stressed (at halftime) we had to make a statement. We have to make our move now. … Would we have scored on that drive without that catch? Probably not. Would we have won that game without that catch? Probably not. Three point game that kept our season alive."

It did as Maryvale has been one of 20 Section VI teams preparing for semifinal clashes this week. Most take place Friday night, but the fourth-seeded Flyers have an extra day to prepare for its Class B semifinal clash at No. 1 seed Lackawanna on Saturday.

"I've seen it so many times," said Blackwell of the clip of the catch he tweeted out to the masses. "It was really an awesome thing. The catch is really amazing. I was hoping my jumping ability could get the ball. It was one for the book there, one I will always remember."

While the catch also became the talk in the hallways of the school among students, teachers and administrators, there is one spot where discussing it is prohibited, according to Blackwell.

Practice.

It makes sense because the Flyers are there to prepare for the challenge that is a Steelers crew that has shut out its last three opponents, not relive past glory. Lackawanna has allowed only 70 points in eight games – with half of those coming in a nonleague contest against unbeaten Class A semifinalist West Seneca West back in Week Five.

"They are a spectacular football team and there's a reason they're a No. 1 seed," said Buccieri, whose team is 7-1 like Lackawanna. "They're big, fast and mean kids. That defense is nasty. They're physical. They're experienced kids too. They upset the No. 1 seed last year in Medina and gave (eventual champion) Dunkirk a push. They came back hungry. We know this is a huge challenge for us."

It will also be a challenge for the Steelers, who like Maryvale have several impact players on both sides of the ball including senior running back/linebacker Khalil Horton.

Blackwell's contributions have been eye-catching because he did not play football his sophomore or junior years. After suffering a concussion as a freshman, his family wanted him to focus on basketball and not risk suffering another head injury playing a game of controlled violence.

His best friend Dylan Casey worked him over verbally to get him to come back out for football. That led to Blackwell doing the same back home which eventually led to his mother giving him her blessing to return to the sport.

All Blackwell has done is show a knack for making plays on both sides of the ball as his speed at receiver (he runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds) means defenses can't just ignore the split end in the Wing-T formation. He's caught 31 passes for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown in a Week One comeback win at Cleveland Hill. At defensive back, he has two interceptions – including one last week to go with 12 tackles.

In the 18-15 win over Newfane, he finished with 129 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions. That includes the one catch that's been a topic of conversation.

"We definitely hit the lottery when we were able to get Ray to come out this year," Buccieri said. "We wouldn't have beaten Cleve Hill without him and we still wouldn't be playing football if not for that catch."

Section VI football Week Nine schedule

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