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Prep Talk: Sweet Home's goal is to honor late John Faller

There is still plenty of football to be played this season, but Sweet Home isn’t wondering if it will experience the taste of victory.

It already has and admits it felt sweet ending a 10-game losing streak.

But the 1-0 Panthers are keeping it real as they don’t want to get too far ahead of themselves. They just want to focus on the next play – specifically winning it.

Achieve that objective enough times during a 48-minute game, and not only should they win more than they lose, but they also should be able to attain their ultimate goal. That’s paying homage to late legendary coach John Faller by making the program a power once again.

Faller guided Sweet Home to 16 division titles, eight Section VI championships, two state titles and a state runner-up appearance in 32 seasons. The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famer died earlier this summer at age 70.

The program last won a sectional title in 2014. Faller retired as football coach after the 2016 season and relinquished reins as boys lacrosse coach in spring of 2017.

“The kids realize how much Coach Faller did for the program,” said second-year Panthers head coach Jeremy Zimmer, who used to be a Faller assistant. “The kids want to turn things around for him. They know what the program used to be. The best way these kids can honor him is run the program the way he’d want it.

That’s fostering an everyone being accountable to each other attitude, while worrying about things they can control.

The one-play-at-a-time method worked Friday as Sweet Home pulled away from host Williamsville South, 40-26, to win its first game since Oct. 13, 2017.

The Panthers had a dreadful 2018 that all started with the sudden transfer of their starting quarterback. Things went downhill from there as adversity had its way with the Panthers.

That wasn’t the case Friday night.

Sweet Home had a lead, watched as South tied the game 26-26. Instead of crumbling and snapping at each other, the talented skilled-position athletes and the strong ones on the line banded together and said enough through their actions.

“Everything was positive,” Zimmer said. “We have a lot of the same kids (from last year) but a lot of them have just grown up.”

What’s also helped? Alumni have come back on their own time to provide assistance, including 2008 state champion quarterback Casey Kacz. He works at least once a week with the quarterbacks, including starter Jamel Lewis who accounted for five touchdowns and 334 yards passing and rushing in the win. Austin Wilson and Adam Laboy also volunteer their time to help the current crop of Panthers.

One win doesn’t mean Sweet Home is all the way back. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to take the cliché one-play at a time.

But it’s a step in the right direction. And the Panthers are motivated for the right reason.

“We’re trying to make things right that’s for sure,” Zimmer said.

Homecoming success

Brian Davis won in his debut as McKinley’s head coach and did so in familiar stomping grounds as the Macks defeated his alma mater, Williamsville North, 20-12.

Davis shined as a three-sport athlete at North, graduating in 2007.

McKinley trailed early but shined brightly the rest of the way, scoring three straight TDs to seize control. Two of them were big-play variety as Jayden Mcilwain scored on a 57-yard reception and Henry Hunter returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score. The defense also recorded nine sacks.

“This was huge because one it was my alma mater but also just coming strong out of the gate,” said Davis, who was appointed Macks coach a month ago after serving as an assistant for Bennett. “Now we just have to keep it rolling, fix the little things and we should be good to go.”

Maritime/HS soars

Davis wasn’t the only first-year coach to win his debut Friday night.

Western New York Maritime/Health Sciences defeated two-time defending Section VI Class B champion Cheektowaga in overtime, 18-12, to triumph in Tyree Parker’s first game as head coach.

Demetrious Potts’ 16-yard TD run ended a defensive battle and gave the second-year program its first season-opening win. Maritime/HS won twice during its inaugural campaign.

Ken West in control

Kenmore West has reason to feel good about itself after being just the second team in 26 games to defeat West Seneca West.

The Blue Devils didn’t just sneak one out, they won pulling away behind a dominant line, strong play-calling and mental toughness.

They took over the game just when it seemed like WSW had seized momentum with Isaiah Simmons’ 80-yard interception return for a touchdown that tied the game 14-14. That came after the Devils execute an onside kick and appeared poised to increase their 14-7 advantage.

Instead of letting that negative play deflate them, the Blue Devils scored the final 20 points with quarterback Zach Boyes atoning for the pick six by rushing for all three TDs and a two-point conversion.

“Our kids really stepped up and did a nice job against adversity,” KW coach John Haynes said.

“It’s a good stepping stone for the program,” KW coach John Haynes said. “We still have a lot to improve on but we can definitely play football in this division.”

Week one observations

-- Could Mykell Hepburn be the second coming of 2015 News Player of the Year Tyree Brown? There’s still a lot of games to be played but he put Brown-like numbers in his varsity debut for South Park in a 38-6 victory over Grand Island. Hepburn passed for 364 yards and three TDs and rushed for 46 yards. The 364 is 14 yards shy of the program record for most passing yards in a game set by Brown.

“He’s athletic but he’s not the same kind of runner,” Sparks coach Tim Delaney said. “I thought he’d play well, but that was impressive.”

-- QB debuts part two: Canisius sophomore Tyler Baker rushed for 207 yards and four TDs and passed for 127 during the Crusaders’ 63-35 loss at Ohio-power Euclid. Canisius trailed 49-35 in the fourth quarter but committed three red zone turnovers – enabling Euclid to pull away.

-- QB debuts part three: While McDowell (Pa.) defeated St. Joe’s, 42-20, there were positives in defeat for the Marauders. The biggie is that sophomore quarterback and Canadian transfer Callum Wither throws a nice ball and tossed several of them in his debut. He finished with three touchdown passes.

-- Erie (Pa.) coach Rob Matz on St. Francis following the Red Raiders’ 50-22 win – a game in which Frannies scored the game’s first 23 points. “They have a great quarterback (Jake Ritts, 209 yards passing, five TDs), who might be the best I’ve seen in all my years, a great running back (Xzavier Janczylik, who rushed for 180 yards and two TDs), and they’re mean and nasty and play with attitude. They’re just a great team,” Matz told the Erie Times-News.

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