Considering Kaiyer Fields’ season ended after just five weeks last year due to injury, it was only natural the McKinley running back would need to answer the following questions on the field during game conditions this year.
Would he be able to take a hit on the knee cap that was cracked during a painful high-low combination hit last season on a kick return?
Would he be able to run with the speed and authority that had him on the radar of some Division I programs – including University at Buffalo – more than a year ago?
The answers seem to be a resounding yes – except it took a couple of games for Fields to convince himself he’s healthy enough to run with reckless abandon that makes him a nightmare for defenses. The numbers he’s piled up recently are proof he’s feeling just fine.
Fields, a 5-foot-9, 210-pound senior, has gained yardage at an-attention-getting rate the last two weeks. He ran for 317 yards and five touchdowns and returned a fumble 65 yards for a score during a 50-28 win over Sweet Home that punched the Macks’ ticket to the Section VI Tournament for the second time in three years. Though McKinley fell in a nonleaguer to Jamestown last week, Fields churned out even more yardage, 355, on 21 carries and three touchdowns.
He’s rushed for 672 of his 1,171 yards for the season during the first two games of October and looks to keep the chains moving for the fourth-seeded Macks on Friday night when they host No. 5 Starpoint in a Section VI Class A quarterfinal contest at Dingboom Field in Riverside.
"He's reading the field well, hitting the right cuts, being elusive when he needs to be, and running with power when he needs to be," Macks interim head coach Micah Harris said.
Fields said his success has been a team effort.
“I can’t do it myself,” he said before practice Thursday. “The ‘O’ linemen (Center: Kalil Billups, Right guard: Ryan McConnell, Right tackle: Zywan Young, LG Darrick Hurts and LT Davon Williams) are doing a good job executing.”
While Starpoint versus McKinley is an intriguing matchup of contrasting teams, this is an interesting week in general for scholastic football in the 7-1-6. Classes A, B and C begin their quarterfinal rounds of their respective Section VI Tournaments – with all but one game being playing Friday night.
It’s also the regular-season finales for teams in Classes AA and D. The four playoff qualifiers in AA are playing for seeding with perhaps the biggest game taking place in Orchard Park with the Quakers hosting two-time defending champion Lancaster with a chance to clinch the division title and top seed for their tournament (but more on that later).
The past two games aren’t the first time Fields has eclipsed 300 yards rushing in a single game. He went for 313 in a season-opening win last year at Orchard Park.
He became a marked man of the opposition after that effort, as defenses focused on the run and dared the Macks to pass. They had issues going vertical.
Not so this season as the return of receiver Taivon Martin – who played last year at Sweet Home after helping the Macks reach the playoffs as a sophomore, has forced defenses to be honest – averaging 25.3 yards on his 12 catches. He has four touchdowns.
Fields and McKinley’s other running backs have been the biggest beneficiaries. Fields is averaging 11.1 yards per carry. The backfield rotation also includes juniors Mandel Wright, Eric Figueroa and Trevin Randall. Ahmen Lester is quarterback.
“McKinley has always been a hard-charging running team,” Harris said. “(Fields) just fits into the McKinley profile of backs.
“Our game plan is to pound the ball. We’re a city school. Some of our kids are from the worst areas, so we want to be the tough guys. We want to be indicative of where we’re from.”
Grounding and pounding will be the Macks’ plan against a Starpoint team that moves the ball with speed through the air behind the precise passing of senior quarterback Aaron Chase. The Spartans put up 61 points last week in a rivalry week win over Lockport. That followed a 21-20 win over South Park in which Starpoint rallied from a 14-point deficit. However, West Seneca East pounded the Spartans into submission back in Week Four, rushing for more than 500 yards and keeping their offense in check for most of 48-minute contest.
Two years ago, these two teams met in the sectional semifinals with Starpoint edging McKinley, 20-13.
Fields, who played in that game, doesn’t believe the Macks had the right mindset that night.
His outlook for Friday?
“Stay focused, ground and pound them, and run out the clock,” he said.
Week Eight’s other top games
-- Lancaster Legends (6-1, 5-1 in Class AA) at Orchard Park Quakers (6-1, 5-1), 7 p.m. at Quaker Stadium. If OP wins, it clinches top seed for the Section VI Class AA Tournament. A Lancaster victory secures no lower than a No. 2 seed in the playoffs for the Legends.
-- Bennett Tigers (5-2, 5-1) at Niagara Falls Wolverines (1-6, 1-5), 1 p.m. Saturday at Niagara Falls Athletic Complex. Tigers win and they clinch top seed for the Class AA so long as Orchard Park loses. If Tigers win coupled with OP triumph, Bennett is the No. 2 seed for playoffs. Losses by the Tigers and Orchard Park would mean Lancaster would be the No. 1 seed for the postseason.
-- South Park Sparks (5-2) at Grand Island Vikings (6-1), 7 p.m. at Gene Masters Field. Sparks have one of top defensive lines in area, while Grand Island has one of the better offensive units in Western New York in this Class A quarterfinal.
-- Dunkirk Marauders (6-1) at Cheektowaga Warriors (6-1), 7 p.m. The past two Class B champions meet in the quarterfinal round of the Section VI Tournament. Defending champion Cheektowaga vying for fourth crown in five years.