LACKAWANNA – The name of the stadium is different but the nickname is here to stay.
Starting senior linebacker Nick Costanzo provided the latest example of that late in the fourth quarter as he exclaimed to teammates on the sidelines and fans behind the bench the words Maryvale and its faithful have longed to hear for more than a decade.
"We're going to The Ralph! We're going to the Ralph!" he said.
The Flyers are indeed heading to Championship Week at the home of the Buffalo Bills.
It took contributions from many, but several big plays from senior Dylan Casey helped make it happen on cold, wet autumn day at Veterans Stadium.
Casey delivered in all three phases of the game, as his 90-yard kick return touchdown to open the third quarter gave the fourth-seeded Flyers the lead for keeps as they defeated top-seeded Lackawanna, 27-8, in a Section VI Class B football semifinal Saturday afternoon.
An estimated crowd of more than 1,500 saw Casey fake a reverse handoff to a teammate after fielding the kick. A few Lackawanna players bit on the fake, creating the lane he needed to jet through in order to give his side the big return it needed to quickly overcome an 8-6 halftime deficit and spark a 21-0 second-half finish.
The win means Maryvale advances to a championship game for the first time since 2006 and the opponent waiting for the Flyers is a familiar one in town rival Cheektowaga, which advanced to its fourth straight final by taking down defending champion Dunkirk on Friday night.
"First time in 11 years … this is great for us, our program, our school," said Casey, who also rushed six times for 67 yards, caught a 39-yard touchdown pass, made two interceptions and recorded five tackles.
"We told these guys after a disappointing finish last year we have to rededicate ourselves," winning coach Jeff Buccieri said. "Weight room started that first week in December. … This has been a year process to get us in the position where we're in shape, disciplined and we got that reward where we're going to The Ralph."
Cheektowaga (8-1) won the teams' annual rivalry week clash two weeks ago by a touchdown to hand Maryvale (8-1) its only loss of the season.
That put the Flyers on a tougher path to reach the final as their reward for surviving a quarterfinal clash against Newfane 18-15 was to face the No. 1 seed in the playoff, a team that allowed just 70 points in eight games.
But with Lackawanna's defense focused on stopping playmakers Rashad Law (18 rushes, 121 yards, one TD, 8 tackles) and Ray Blackwell (12 tackles) it was Casey, the forgotten big-play threat who torched a Steelers team trying to return to a sectional final for the first time since 2010. With the Flyers trailing 8-0 late in the second quarter and facing a second-and-long after a sack, Casey got loose behind the defense and quarterback Connor Desiderio didn't miss as the two hooked up on the 39-yard touchdown with 3 minutes, 31 seconds left. That's the first touchdown yielded by Lackawanna's defense since the fourth quarter of a Week 5 loss at Section VI Class A finalist West Seneca West.
It wasn't be the only time Maryvale's offense took it to the house. Law broke free for a 45-yard run in the third quarter to make it 20-8. That came after a 24-yard gain on a sweep by Casey. The Flyers closed the scoring with 6:18 left as Jay Henley's 1-yard run capped a 14-play possession that milked nearly 8 minutes of clock.
Both Casey's TDs, however, were huge for the following reasons.
-- His receiving one showed that Maryvale could indeed experience offensive success against the stingiest defense in Class B.
-- His kick return further wobbled a Steelers (7-2) team that played without one of its key players in senior London Smith. He missed the game after suffering a serious upper body injury Tuesday in practice when he landed on the football in an unprotected spot between his padding.
"It's the people around me," Casey said of his success. "It's the blocks I get on kick return. All I do is get the ball and run down the field. I just hit one cut, had perfect blocking and beat them to the end zone. … The pass, Connor threw a perfect dime. Defense, coach Buccieri puts us in a perfect spot, puts me in a perfect spot to intercept passes."
"That's the kind of team they have," Steelers coach Adam Tardif said. "They have a three-headed monster, take two away and the other can hurt you and that's what happened on the kick return and the touchdown pass."
Lackawanna cashed in on the game's opening possession as Khalil Horton (17 rushes, 88 yards) scored on a 27-yard run outside on a fourth-and-inches play and then ran in the conversion.
In fact the Steelers looked as if they would thrive in the rain (ideal conditions for their style of power football) as early on as they won the battle in the trenches, milked the clock and forced a pair of three-and-out drives. The Steelers failed to expand on their lead as their next drive stalled at Maryvale's 25 as a dropped pass in the end zone by an open receiver slowed them down there. They also came up empty on other chances to score, the biggie happening late in the second quarter after Casey's touchdown catch. Casey played a role in that as he picked off a Noble Smith pass at the 2 with about a minute left in the half.
"That was a huge momentum changer for our kids," Tardif said. "It was just a negative outcome for us."
Casey also intercepted Lackawanna's final pass of the game with 28 seconds left. He looked as if he had a chance to take it to the house – a perfect capper to a great day for – but opted to step out of bounds. The extra touchdown wasn't necessary since the Flyers already had what the desired most: a date with Cheektowaga at The Ralph.
"We wanted it bad … I'm glad we got it," Casey said.
"We have the fight of our life coming up against a Cheektowaga team that's just lights out," Buccieri said. "But right now we're just going to enjoy the win and be thankful to beat a loaded Lackawanna team."