Maryvale High School is two miles away from Cheektowaga Central. On Saturday, the Flyers were two yards from beating their crosstown rivals for the sectional championship.
The Warriors’ defensive line pushed into the backfield and linebacker Taivaughn Roach tackled Maryvale’s Rashad Law on a two-point conversion attempt to cement Cheektowaga’s 28-27 overtime victory in the Section VI Class B final at New Era Field.
In the first sectional title game between the rivals sitting atop the News’ Small School poll, No. 1 Cheektowaga (9-1) claimed its third championship in four years. No. 2 Maryvale (8-2) was seeking its first title since 1985 and playing in the final for the first time since 2006.
“It’s just a great feeling to be back here and win a championship,” Cheektowaga quarterback KeShone Beal said. “I’m just so excited that we got it done. And it feels good to beat them.”
Following Maryvale quarterback Connor Desiderio’s 25-yard touchdown run in overtime, Roach said he expected the Flyers to go for two — and he knew what play was coming.
“They wanted it so bad and when they want it like that, they are going to go for it,” Roach said. “When Rashad is in the backfield, we know he’s gonna get the ball. He came right to me. They wanted to win and it was just about who wanted it more.”
Beal rushed for 155 yards and scored three times, culminating with three runs for 20 yards and a touchdown in overtime. Alex Sparbel’s fourth extra point turned out to be the winning score.
“KeShone is our guy and he really is our offensive identity,” Cheektowaga coach Mike Fatta said. “When it came down to it, the ball is in his hands and he’s a force. The kids were saying in the huddle on the way in, just give it to KeShone.”
The challenge of trying to tackle the squatty, barrel-thighed Beal influenced Maryvale coach Jeff Buccieri’s decision to go for the win in overtime instead of trying a tying extra point.
“They really took it to us and kind of hammered down the field on us and I was fearful of that happening again,” Buccieri said. “We scored on a broken play, we had momentum and we felt that was our best avenue to win the game.
“We had the No. 1 school on the ropes. We thought we had an opening there for that two-point play and we obviously fell short. Now it’s an offseason of second-guessing.”
Fatta was surprised — and impressed — by Buccieri’s bold decision.
“I told coach Buc’ and (assistant coach Steve Griffin) that they were pretty gutsy for doing that,” Fatta said. “Really good for them going for the win and thank goodness our guys executed and dug deep."
The two teams were tied for more than 36 of the 48 regulation minutes and neither led by more than a touchdown at any point.
Dylan Casey made an early interception that led to Jay Henley’s 12-yard touchdown run that put Maryvale up 7-0 in the first quarter.
Cheektowaga tied the game on Jaquan Bush’s 1-yard jaunt up the middle early in the second quarter. The Warriors took their first lead on Beal’s 24-yard keeper midway through the third quarter.
Maryvale tied it up with an 80-yard drive, the longest of the game by either team, that took 1:46, the shortest of any non-overtime scoring march. Ray Blackwell reached high to grab a 25-yard touchdown pass from Desiderio in the back of the end zone.
Beal scored his second touchdown on a 4-yard run in the final minute of the third quarter. Desiderio connected with Casey on a 27-yard touchdown that made it 21-21 with 10:29 left in the fourth.
Desiderio, a sophomore, completed 13-of-18 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Blackwell caught four passes for 91 yards.
“We challenged these guys after last year to take our program to the next level and they definitely did,” Buccieri said. “We came up short here today, we’re obviously disappointed but very proud of a successful season."
Cheektowaga will play Section V champion Hornell in the Far West Regional at 3 p.m. Saturday at SUNY Brockport.