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Prep Talk: Position switch connects with Maple Grove's Tanner

As a quarterback for a two-time state runner-up, Easton Tanner is all about the team.

So when new Maple Grove coach Justin Hanft asked him to switch positions, the senior overcame the fear of not having played any other position on offense in his life by responding like any leader. He accepted the challenge.

The reason.

“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team whatever position I am at,” Tanner said.

Tanner’s doing that in a big way. Hanft’s decision to get the ball in Tanner’s hands as often as possible has paid off in a record-setting way for the player and in big way for the team.

Tanner recently set the state record for touchdown receptions in a game with six. He finished that Week Four contest, a 54-24 win over Catt./Little Valley, with seven touchdowns total.

That has been part of two-week run in which Tanner has scored nine of Maple Grove’s last 10 touchdowns – including both in last week’s nonleague win over Gowanda/Pine Valley.

For the season, Tanner has rushed for 390 yards, averaging 6.61 yards per carry, and five scores. He’s caught 25 passes for 513 yards and eight TDs.

“Easton has been absolutely our most dynamic offensive player all season,” Hanft said. “We’re just doing whatever we can to get him the ball in space.”

Tanner and the Red Dragons look to keep that going this Saturday in what figures to be their toughest challenge to date. They face off against state Class D No. 1 Clymer/Sherman/Panama in a rematch of the teams’ meeting from last month in Bemus Point, which CSP won handily, 55-20.

One thing is certain for the 1:30 p.m. clash at Sherman: There should be points aplenty. CSP (5-0) averages 47 per game, Maple Grove (4-1) 38.

“I don’t think anyone’s predicting a shutout,” Hanft said. “We have to execute when we have the ball and keep the time of possession game in our favor so that we can keep that offense on the sideline as long as possible.”

That’s where Tanner comes in, along with current quarterback and fellow senior Carson Crist.

The connection used to be in reverse last year with Crist serving as a running back and receiving threat to compliment the graduated Nick Fabrizio. Hanft determined Tanner’s athleticism made him a natural to fill the void of Fabrizio.

“We definitely needed to fill a hole there,” Hanft said. “With Carson’s ability to lead the offense, we felt the transition would be pretty smooth. Both kids embraced (switching positions). … Easton is definitely our feature player on offense.”

Two weeks ago, he and Crist were in perfect sync with each other. Tanner caught six passes for 244 yards and six touchdowns, breaking the record for TD catches in a single game. The old mark of five was shared by 13 players.

“That was just a special game,” Hanft said. “He and Carson had a rhythm going.  Some of those play calls we had were intended to go to different players. The play broke down, they have such a good relationship that they saw each other …”

And the rest was history.

Tanner, a standout baseball player with hopes of playing that sport in college, is happy being in the books but isn’t completely satisfied with being a record holder. As far as he’s concerned, Maple Grove, ranked fourth in the state, still has some unfinished business.

“We’re still trying to get to the state championship,” he said. “Hopefully when we get that done I can sit back and enjoy what we accomplished in the game.”

Now, it’s about taking care of business on the field. There’s still a lot of season left for Maple Grove, as the playoffs for Class D do not being until Oct. 26 with the top two finishers in the four-team division hosting semifinal games.

Weekend’s top games

-- South Park Sparks (4-1) at Starpoint Spartans (4-1), 7 p.m. Friday at Tudor Stadium. The winner of this game pretty much locks up a playoff spot as the second-place finisher in Class A-3. The loser still has an outside shot of making the postseason based on criteria used to determine which two third-place teams in the three Class A divisions will be the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds for the tournament. Starpoint routed Williamsville South last week to rebound from its loss to West Seneca East. South Park suffered its first loss last week against WSE.

-- WNY Maritime/Health Sciences Falcons (1-4) at West Seneca East Trojans (5-0), 7 p.m. Friday. Trojans can clinch Class A-3 Division with a victory.

-- Orchard Park Quakers (4-1) at Bennett Tigers (4-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday at All High Stadium. Bennett can inch closer toward securing division title and top seed in Class AA with win over Quakers. Tigers earned victory over two-time defending Section VI champion Lancaster to take sole possession of first place. OP is coming off its first loss to Williamsville North.

-- Niagara Wheatfield Falcons (4-1) at West Seneca West Indians (5-0), 7 p.m. Friday. The winner of this game clinches Class A-1 Division crown. West is on 20-game winning streak.

-- St. Francis Red Raiders (2-3) at St. Joe’s (1-4), 1 p.m. Saturday. St. Francis comes in looking for its third win in four games, while the Marauders look to rebound from last week’s heartbreaking loss to rival Canisius and snap a four-game losing streak.

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