Lancaster’s winning formula — E + R = O — is emblazoned on wristbands worn by each team member this season.
“Events plus response equals outcome,” coach Eric Rupp explained.
For the second straight week, the Legends responded in the event of being down on the scoreboard and the outcome is a return trip to New Era Field for next week’s Section VI Class AA championship.
The two-time defending champions gutted out a 21-20 victory over visiting Williamsville North on Friday night at Foyle-Kling Field in a semifinal rematch of last year’s AA title game.
“All the boys came together for the final game on the home field,” said senior linebacker David Gaca, who planted the Legends’ flag at midfield after the win.
Lancaster (8-1), the No. 2 team in the News’ large school poll, will now meet No. 3 Bennett (8-1), the only local team to beat the Legends over the past two seasons, in next Friday’s championship game.
After graduating 16 starters, including four first-team All-Western New York selections, the Legends haven't dominated their local competition like they did a year ago, but have shown late-game resolve to continue their three-peat drive.
“Everyone said we were down and we lost all our players, but it’s not true,” senior running back Brandon Wingard said. “It just shows our hard work and our grit. Everyone does their one-eleventh and it feels great.”
“We graduated a tremendous amount of talent,” Rupp said. “But I said to our kids, our expectations are not going to change. We expect to compete for a sectional championship and here we are.”
Lancaster had to come back in the second half to beat Williamsville North earlier in the regular season and overcame a halftime deficit to win at Orchard Park last week and secure its home playoff game.
On Friday night, the Legends gained an early lead before falling behind 20-14 after Williamsville North’s Dylan Kelly caught two long touchdown passes (72 and 58 yards) from Joe Nusall in the third quarter.
Situational quarterback Gianluca Fulciniti scored his second goal-to-go rushing touchdown and made his third extra point, putting Lancaster back ahead with 9:58 left in the fourth quarter.
At the start of the 78-yard winning drive, Rupp told his offense, “it’s on us. We’re down six, if we score right here, I’m confident the defense will hold them.”
North went three-and-out on the following possession and got near midfield on its final drive before Ethan Jurkowski’s fourth down interception sealed the Lancaster win.
Mitch Klima and Gaca also had interceptions for Lancaster. Conor Mahoney led the defense with 10 tackles. Matt Marschner made seven tackles and blocked the point after attempt following the Spartans’ first touchdown, a 3-yard run by Grant Richards, late in the first half.
“That was huge,” Fulciniti said. “Every point counts. That’s what (assistant) coach (Brian) Wild says every day to our PAT team. And we won by one, so it’s true.”
Sophomore starter Jason Mansell was 13 of 24 passing for 141 yards and a 17-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive to Shawn Davis (six catches, 59 yards). Wingard rushed for 64 yards on 14 carries and Fulciniti scored on 1-yard and 3-yard runs.
Kelly nearly led Williamsville North (6-3) to the comeback win. He caught five passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, made an interception and ran six times for 35 yards out of the double-wing formation that gave the Spartans traction after a slow start.
“You ride your horse. So we tried to move him around and get him the ball when we could,” North coach Mike Mammoliti said. “I couldn’t ask anything more from our guys. They played toe-to-toe. I’m very proud of them.”