Over the last five years of Cheektowaga’s Class B dominance, the Warriors have made a name for themselves with high-flying offense.
On Friday night, it was the Warriors’ stingy defense that took center stage.
Cheektowaga used a spirited defensive effort to bottle up Pioneer standout running back Mike Rigerman and hand the previously-unbeaten Panthers a 14-7 loss in Section VI Class B championship.
The win is Cheektowaga’s fourth Class B title in five years and second straight.
The Warriors limited the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Rigerman to just 37 yards on 17 carries. Rigerman entered the game with a Section VI-leading 2,081 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground.
“All the credit goes to Coach (Mike) Fatta, he’s the best defensive coach I know,” said senior linebacker Paul Portorreal Jr. “We came into the game with a great game plan and just swallowed Rigerman up.”
Portorreal Jr. lead the Warriors' defensive attack with nine tackles. Isaiah Sharp made five tackles and had the game-clinching interception in the waning minutes.
The win avenges a 33-14 loss Pioneer handed Cheektowaga in Week 4, a game where Rigerman rushed for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
“No one thought we could do it and we came out on top,” said Cheektowaga senior quarterback Keshone Beal, whose 1-yard touchdown run and eventual 2-point conversion run put the Warriors ahead midway through the fourth quarter. “Our defense played phenomenal. We just tackled legs, didn’t let (Rigerman) get big runs and stopped everyone else.”
Pioneer struck first in the second quarter when Panthers quarterback Nick Rinker delivered a perfect pass down the sideline on 3rd down to senior Brian Wittmeyer for a 25-yard TD.
Wittmeyer setup the touchdown three plays earlier when he combined with Pioneer senior Trevor Smith to strip sack Beal and the Panthers recovered the loose ball on Warriors’ 15.
Pioneer maintained that lead until Beal started heating up late in the third quarter.
While the senior quarterback struggled through the air (4 of 18 for 45 yards), he made Pioneer pay on the ground with 119 yards.
"The heart and the effort he showed in the second half to lift us up and put us on his back will go down in history at our school," Fatta said."
Cheektowaga senior Rayshawn Minter scored the Warriors' second touchdown on a 13-yard run with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter.
Cheektowaga advances to the state quarterfinal/Far West Regional game against the Section V champion Nov. 10 at Clarence High School.
Batavia plays Wayne for the Section V title at 8 p.m. on Saturday at St. John Fisher.