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Prep Talk: Lancaster's quest for the state title has a generation of followers

Call it an event for the generations, because, well, it is as far as Lancaster football is concerned.

When the Legends (12-0) take the field at 3 p.m. Sunday against fellow unbeaten Troy (12-0) at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse for the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class AA championship, there will be fans young and old who make the journey to witness the historic event for the 98-year-old program.

Those who don't make the trek will likely do the unthinkable and flip the channel from the Bills game to watch the rare Sunday afternoon scholastic game on Spectrum News between the top two-ranked teams in the state.

We're talking about fathers, brothers, uncles of current players who are Lancaster football alumni, as well as moms, sisters and aunts who rooted them on and/or played other sports for the school. Lancaster graduates who have no relationship with these kids are just as excited to see them doing well simply because they too are still loyal to their alma mater after all these years.

Of course, one can't forget the two coaching legends, Joe Foyle and Len Jankiewicz, who do plan to make the trip to Onondaga County to watch the biggest game in program history. In Foyle's case, he still makes appearances at practice and helps out second-year coach Eric Rupp and his assistants – who just so happen to have all been coached during their playing days by Jankiewicz and Foyle.

"This moment is huge for us," Rupp said.

"We have to win for every team that played before us," Lancaster senior linebacker Brett Beetow said. "We're fortunate to make it this far. We have to carry on (the tradition)."

The players and coaches are determined to do right by their community, but make no mistake. They also want to finish what they've started for themselves and further enhance their own legacy because Sunday is a chance at earning the ultimate life memory.

With a win, Lancaster would join the short list of Section VI Class AA teams to win a state championship – a club that features its longtime rivals Jamestown and Orchard Park, along with North Tonawanda.

"We're definitely trying to go out with a bang," Beetow said. "We're all ready."

It's a moment the Legends have been preparing for since their last loss back in November 2016, when they dropped a six-point decision to eventual state runner-up Victor in the Far West Regional round. The defeat has provided fuel to the competitive fire that rages within those who played in the game – including seniors Ben Damiani, Joe Andreessen, Ryan Mansell and Max Giordano.

It's a moment that has been on the team's mind since those first long August training camp workouts, practices that included appearances by the venerable Foyle, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame member.

Not surprisingly, Rupp and his players have made references to Foyle and Jankiewicz, how their success also is for them, in multiple postgame interviews following postseason wins over Williamsville North (Section VI final), Section V's Aquinas (Far West Regional) and Section III's Cicero-North Syracuse (state semifinals).

Lancaster rides Andreessen's running, passing into Class AA state final

Foyle still offers tips to Rupp based on his practice and game observations. He even mails suggestions to Rupp, whose father played for Foyle.

There is no generational gap within the Lancaster football family when it comes down to the X's and O's of the game.

"They're a big reason we want to win," said Damiani, whose father and uncles either played for Foyle or Jankiewicz. "Coach Jank comes … every time he talks to us we all get emotional. He always has something good to say. Coach Foyle, he's like 92, whenever he comes by it's something good to say."

"They've poured their whole life into this program," do-everything-senior Joe Andreessen said. "We kind of look at them as almost legends of the Lancaster program because they've been around so long and mean so much."

"He's like your dad," Rupp said of Jankiewicz. "You never want to disappoint him."

Rupp and the Legends have most certainly not disappointed anybody.

Jankiewicz, who says he has limited contact with the football team, looks at what Rupp has done with the program in two years with amazement. Winning football games in Class AA is supposed to be difficult, yet the next time a Section VI team beats a Rupp-coached Legends team will be the first. Twenty-two and 1 to start a career is simply amazing at any level.

"He realized he had talent but there are other things that go into a successful program," Jankiewicz said. "He's really turned this year into a powerhouse kind of team because of the dynamic leadership he provides. … The players sacrifice their time. They sacrifice egos. They have to focus on working together. Eric has done a great job. … I kind of think he has the vision of a young man's life in context.

"These kids are going to be reveling in this the rest of their lives regardless of the result and they'll be bound to Eric Rupp, Dave Mansell, Brian Wild. It's been a fun ride. It's great."

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