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Lancaster caps legendary weekend for Section VI, takes down Aquinas

There had been some chatter in recent weeks regarding Lancaster's ability to play a full four quarters of football.

The Legends' starters simply didn't have any need to do it during the regular season and three weeks of the playoffs because Lancaster crushed everyone it faced.

What would happen the first time an opponent really pushed back?

Lancaster answered that question loud and clear Saturday night, producing  a legendary triumph for its program and Western New York in the same game.

Lancaster punched its ticket to the state semifinals for the first time in its history by defeating state power and Section V champion Aquinas, 9-0, at Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium at SUNY Brockport.

Max Giordano made up for an early turnover by scoring the game's only touchdown, while a Legends' defense that has made life difficult for all of its foes did so in the biggest game in program history against an opponent that's won seven state titles. The Little Irish gained just 69 yards in the first meeting between the teams.

It's the first time Aquinas (9-2) has lost via shutout since being crushed 34-0 by Canisius during Week 2 of the 2014 season.

"It's surreal," said senior Joe Andreessen, who finished with nine tackles and had two of the team's five sacks. "We came into this game, I don't think a lot of people would have given us a chance but our coaches, they got us prepared and it showed."

"It's unbelievable," said Giordano, who caught six passes for 59 yards in this defensive showdown. "This feels great. we've been playing since we were little kids together with one goal to win a state championship. So far we're achieving it."

The state's second-ranked team made the seventh-ranked Little Irish uncomfortable throughout to earn a date against Central Region champion Cicero-North Syracuse next Saturday night at Union-Endicott High School.

The win by Lancaster (11-0) -- in the last of five regional games played over two days this weekend -- means Section VI swept Section V in this round for the first time since the start of the state tournament in 1993. There have been five classes since 1996. Also advancing to the semifinals were West Seneca West (Class A), Cheektowaga (Class B), Cleveland Hill (Class C) and Maple Grove (Class D).

"That's amazing," Andreessen said. "We showed the state how good we are at football. … It's really impressive."

Giordano redeemed himself after his fumble at Aquinas' 9 stalled a promising first drive. On his team's second possession he made the key plays. He ran a great route and hauled in a 12-yard catch on fourth-and-5 to extend the drive. Three plays later Giordano made a sensational leaping catch near the back of the end zone for the 13-yard TD. He added the extra point kick to make it 7-0.

"That's part of the game," Giordano said of the mistake. "You have to let it go. It's over and done with. … Luckily the next drive Ryan (Mansell) threw a perfect ball to me up top. Always have to look ahead, can't look in the past."

That TD was all Lancaster needed.

The Legends' starters came into the contest having giving up just six points all season. The unit  showed everyone why its tough to score on against an Aquinas team that has no shortage of skilled talents.

Andreessen caused havoc with his blitzing from the middle linebacker spot, recording seven tackles and two sacks during the opening 24 minutes and didn't let up during the second half.

Ben Damiani (four tackles) and Connor Mahony (four tackles, one sack) also brought it as did the rest of the Dave Mansell-coached defensive unit.

Lancaster's defense stuffed a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak near midfield on the opening drive of the third quarter with Brett Beetow and others in on the stop.

That gave Andreessen a chance to cause some havoc as the wildcat quarterback for six plays. He ran on five of them with perhaps the nicest being a read option in which it looked as if he handed it off to Hersey only to take off the other way for the 24-yard gain. He rushed five times for 33 yards on the possession that came up empty as a 32-yard field goal try sailed wide left.

Lancaster added to its lead 3 seconds into the fourth quarter. The Little Irish's snap on a punt attempt from deep in its territory sailed over the head of the punter and out of the end zone for a safety.

The Legends had a chance to add more as on Aquinas' next drive, as Kyle Backert recovered a backward lateral at the Little Irish 21. Lancaster didn't turn it into points but milked some clock.

Aquinas' possession with 4:47 left didn't last too long as Brett Beetow picked off a pass at the Little Irish's 38 on the first play to give Lancaster another chance at draining the time.

The Legends did just that. They didn't give the Little Irish (9-2) the ball again, securing a historic moment.

"This was an old school, smash mouth football game," Lancaster coach Eric Rupp said. "Our defense has played unbelievable all year. Tonight was their shining moment on the big stage and they came through."

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