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Lancaster Legends look to keep the mohawk, and winning, tradition alive

The blonde mohawks were as much a staple of Lancaster’s run to the state championship football game last season as seeing Joe Andreessen moving from tackle to quarterback when the Legends opted to go into their big wildcat formation.

Andreessen has graduated, but some traditions are just too important to fade away. So, it wasn’t surprising to see the return of the signature hair-dos as members of the Legends celebrated their third straight Section VI Class AA championship on the turf at New Era Field last Friday following their win over Bennett.

This week, the coaches have become involved in the hair-raising experience, including coach Eric Rupp. The only difference with him compared to the others is that Rupp did not dye his hair.

“I didn’t want my wife to get mad at me or my principal to fire me,” quipped Rupp for passing on the dye job.

The mohawk tradition began in 2016. That’s when current Milwaukee Brewers prospect Leugim Castillo and Max Giordano suggested doing something to further promote team unity during the postseason.

They did that and then some.

One week after joining elite company in Section VI by becoming just the 12th program to win three straight championships, Lancaster heads into this weekend’s Far West Regionals at Clarence High School looking to do something that rarely happens in handing state power and Section V champion Aquinas back-to-back season-ending defeats.

The two teams meet in a state quarterfinal rematch at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

The regional round begins at 5 p.m. Friday with a Class C clash between Cleveland Hill and Section V counterpart Letchworth/Warsaw, followed by the Class A showdown between unbeaten Irondequoit of Section V and first-time regional participant West Seneca East.

Saturday’s schedule includes the Class D regional at noon between Clymer/Sherman/Panama and Alexander of Section V, and the Class B contest at 6:30 featuring Cheektowaga and old friend Batavia.

Section VI has a tough act to follow, as last year was the first in which Buffalo-area teams won all five regional contests against their Rochester Section V counterparts at Brockport State, culminating with Lancaster's 9-0 win over the Little Irish.

Heading into this weekend, Section V teams on paper seem to have an advantage on their counterparts. Aquinas is ranked ahead of Lancaster in the state poll (seventh vs. 10th), while Irondequoit and Batavia are ranked ahead of their Section VI opponents in Classes A and B, respectively, in the current poll.

This could be Section V’s revenge tour with the winningest program in state tournament history, Aquinas, leading the charge.

"We'll see what happens," Section VI chairman Ken Stoldt said. "The fact we're going to have some rain Friday night and some snow Saturday, that could be a factor. And at this point, every team is a good team."

The Little Irish of Aquinas (9-1) have no shortage of playmakers. They’re easy to spot since most wear single-digit numbers on the field. That doesn't take into account that the Irish's best player entering the season, senior Caron Robinson, has been limited to four games due to a broken thumb.

“Aquinas is really good, they have a quarterback, four or five wide receivers,” Rupp said. “As far as we’re concerned, we want to do something similar to last year (against Aquinas) and similar to last weekend (against Bennett).”

In both games, Lancaster got the lead then basically played keep away, milking the play clock before each snap. It’s not exciting to watch, but leads to a rewarding experience when done right.

Still, Rupp said the offense needs to perform better than last week. That means establishing the run, which opens up the play-action pass. Lancaster likely will need to score more than nine points to win this rematch.

While Lancaster’s mohawks have returned, Cleveland Hill players aren’t doing anything drastic.

Coach Glen Graham’s crew is using last year’s experience at regionals as motivation, hoping the power of positivity from that win over Caledonia-Mumford/Byron-Bergen provides a blueprint to get past a Letchworth/Warsaw and return to Union-Endicott for the Final Four.

“It gives them the goal to at least get to where we got to last year,” Graham said.

While the public schools wage battle, old friends in the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association meet with the winner earning a championship celebration on the turf at UB Stadium.

Bishop Timon-St. Jude takes on Cardinal O'Hara in the Division B playoff final at 2 p.m. Saturday. The twinbill ends with Canisius and St. Francis meeting in the overall championship game for the third time in four seasons. The winner advances to the state Catholic final later this month against the New York City Catholic High School League champion.

The Crusaders have won five of the last six playoff titles with St. Francis winning in 2015.

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