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Regional test against Aquinas football commands almost all of Lancaster's attention

For a brief moment Thursday, the minds of several Lancaster football players were focused on their college future, not the challenge that awaits them this weekend at SUNY Brockport.

They had no choice but to briefly look beyond Saturday because it was a special time in their lives as the moment they've been working toward all their athletic lives was finally here.

The Division I or II dream was no longer just that, but a reality for six members of the Legends: Andrew Hersey (St. Bonaventure, lacrosse), Max Giordano (Niagara, baseball), Alec Tamburri (West Virginia Weslyan, baseball), Ben Mazur (St. Bonaventure, lacrosse), Bryce Benham (Hobart, lacrosse) and Brett Beetow (University of Tampa, lacrosse).

They were among the Lancaster student-athletes who announced their college commitments in non-football sports.

"Today is a big day for them, a big step toward their future goal," Lancaster football coach Eric Rupp said. "They should enjoy it."

But once practice rolled around, the vibe shifted toward achieving a different goal as they and their teammates hope to lead the Legends to where they have never gone before in football.

Unbeaten Lancaster (10-0), ranked second in the state, faces Section V champion Aquinas (9-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday at SUNY Brockport in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class AA quarterfinal/regional contest. It's the first time the programs will meet in football, although Aquinas is no stranger to Western New York football fans — what with the Rochester private school regularly facing Canisius, St. Francis and St. Joe's.

The game is the last of five this weekend between Section VI and V champions with the winner advancing to next week's state semifinals at Union-Endicott High School.

The action begins at 5 p.m. Friday with a Class D clash between Maple Grove and Clyde-Savannah followed by the Class A game between first-time champions West Seneca West and Wilson Magnet.

Saturday's tripleheader at Brockport begins at 1 p.m. with the Class C game between Cleveland Hill and Caledonia-Mumford/Byron-Bergen. Class B at 4 p.m. features Cheektowaga against Hornell.

Section VI has had at least one team win a regional game since the start of the state tournament in 1993. While the section had a team reach the state final last season in Maple Grove, 2016 was the first time since 2010 an area public school failed to win a state title in football.

Returning to regionals with a goal of advancing has been Lancaster's mission ever since it last lost a game — last year in this round to eventual state runner-up Victor.

What must the Legends do to become the first Western New York team to defeat the Little Irish this season?

Be ready to stop the run from any formation as Aquinas likes to mix up its looks but hand the ball off to its playmakers. That means winning the battle in the trenches and giving linebackers like Beetow, Joe Andreessen and Ben Damiani chances to make the plays as they have been all season for a starting unit that's given up just six points through 10 games.

"They have several players who will be college football players in the next year, we certainly have to prepare well," Rupp said.

While the college signees on the Legends aren't for football, there is no ignoring the impact scholarship talents have had on the program the past two seasons.

Victor is the only team to have beaten Lancaster since Rupp took over as head coach in 2016. Twenty and one is an astounding start to a coaching career.

It helps having a talented group that cares about the program.

"I'd be lying if I thought we'd be able to win two championships my first two years," Rupp said. "Our senior class has competed at a championship level in a variety of sports. Our kids are in tremendous physical shape all year round and they bring that competitiveness to the football field. I think their success in other sports has given them a greater sense of confidence."

West Seneca West has performed like a confident bunch all season with University at Buffalo commit Matt Myers leading the charge.

Can the Indians keep it going? One thing is certain. The ride has been an unforgettable experience for all involved, including seniors who began the journey to Section VI champion as kids on modified with potential and a dream of doing something special.

"Now it's let's have fun and take it one day at a time and leave our best product on the field Friday night and let's roll," West coach Mike Vastola said.

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