This wasn’t supposed to be how the rivalry game ended for Cardinal O’Hara.
St. Mary’s 28, Hawks 6.
Cardinal O’Hara football coach Shaquille Dudley expressed his frustration afterward because the Hawks aren’t supposed to lose to the Lancers regardless of the circumstances.
It doesn’t matter that O’Hara is young and battling the numbers game due to injuries and lack of depth, even if that is the team’s reality one year after capturing the Monsignor Martin Small Schools playoff championship.
You don’t lose to St. Mary’s.
The Hawks lost and did for the first time to the Lancers since Oct. 31, 2015 and would’ve been shut out if not for a late touchdown.
“It’s just one of those things, it’s inexperience,” said Dudley, who graduated a lot from last year’s team. “We have three returning guys, three seniors. The rest are sophomores and juniors who haven’t had that opportunity to play an abundance of snaps.”
There was a silver lining. At least the Hawks played their league opener at home Saturday instead of staying home watching football.
Just last week, O’Hara (0-5) had to forfeit its game against Section IV’s Binghamton because it didn’t have enough healthy players to meet the state requirement of being able to suit up 16 players. That’s the second time this season the Hawks didn’t have enough bodies, which is unheard of for the tiny private school with the proud football tradition. O’Hara forfeited its season opener against Bishop Ireton of Virginia.
“It felt great to have a home game,” Dudley said. “It was homecoming. … In my opinion Cardinal O’Hara-St. Mary’s is the best rivalry. They’ve won championships in small schools and we’ve won championships in the small schools.”
Still, O’Hara had just seven subs on the bench. The roster of 22 is down to 20 after two kids left school – including one going back to Georgia with his family – following a Week Three loss to current unbeaten McKinley. A couple transferred following the school year.
There aren’t enough players to field a junior varsity team, which wasn’t the case last year.
What’s it like to practice since the Hawks don’t have enough players to go 11 on 11? O’Hara does 7-on-7, some 9-on-7, half line. The team does lots of strength and conditioning and film work.
“It’s been tough, but part of my job is to make a schedule and make a plan to adjust,” Dudley said. “This hasn’t gotten me down or gotten me upset. If they see me like that it would affect those kids, but it’s been encouraging. We were pleased and happy to come out and play this week against a school that’s like ours. We’re excited to get back at it next week at Tifft Farm (against Timon-St. Jude).”
How did this happen?
O’Hara Athletic Director Angelo Sciandra, who happens to be the all-time winningest football coach at both O’Hara and St. Mary’s, has an interesting theory.
“I think it’s a combination of two things,” Sciandra said. “If you look everywhere, I think the numbers are down everywhere because there aren’t a lot of kids in Western New York anymore. If you go to any public school or any Catholic school the numbers are down. There just aren’t as many kids as there used to be. The other part of it is people have beaten up football for so long now that it’s becoming easy not to play football anymore. I think everybody thinks they’re going to get concussed.”
He said it’s easier to just stay home and play video games instead of convincing parents to play.
Maybe he’s right. Also, some folks aren’t able to pay tuition for their children to play at a private school.
O’Hara isn’t the only team with numbers issues. St. Mary’s has 26. St. Joe’s has a varsity roster of 30 players, which is small for a large school and one of the area’s signature programs.
Still, Frontier – a Class AA sized public school – has had an increase in the number of players in its program – so much so that it now fields two modified teams in addition to a solid junior varsity team.
What’s the solution?
“We’re hoping to play the rest of the games on our schedule,” Sciandra said. “We’re trying. … We got to get it fixed for next year. We have to get some football players into the school.”
“I knew we had to replace a lot of kids,” Dudley said. “I guess I was expecting to have more kids. Some of that is out of my control. The guys who show up, I do the best I can to coach them and encourage them to develop.”
Nest for the Falcons?
By securing the Class B-2 Division title, the team with no-home field of its own, Western New York Maritime/Health Sciences, has secured at least one home game for the postseason.
It’s a unique situation, but coach Tyree Parker said the program is trying to line up a field to use to host a playoff game in Week Eight.
“They’ve earned the right to play a home game,” he said.
Parker felt the team would be good this year but division-champion good?
“I knew we were going to be better but to say we’re going to be 4-1 and win the division I’d be lying,” he said. “We worked exceptionally hard (during the offseason and season) and I’m just proud of the guys for trusting the coaching staff.”
Week Five observations
-- Remember the days when Newfane used to be an afterthought in football? For the second time in three years, the Panthers have punched their ticket to the playoffs. This time they’re doing it as a division champion after clinching their first crown since coach Chuck Nagel’s playing days 26 years ago.
-- Unbeaten Orchard Park handled its business on Senior night – cruising past Hutch-Tech. Now it’s the big finish with back-to-back games against Lancaster and Jamestown for the right to win the division title and earn the top seed for Class AA playoffs.
-- While OP, Lancaster, Jamestown, Bennett and Clarence seem to be battling for the top four seeds, don’t sleep on Niagara Falls, which quietly improved to 4-1 overall and 3-1 in league with its comeback win over Frontier on Saturday. The Wolverines’ schedule gets a tad bit tougher with games against Jamestown and Bennett the next two weeks, but a win over either of those teams could very well secure a home playoff date in the Cataract City.
-- With its wealth of football talent, are you sure South Park isn’t a private school?