JAMESTOWN – Simeon Leeper has the perfect name for a receiver with a knack for coming up with a jump ball, but it turns out he’s not the only Jamestown football player with leaping ability.
Jaylen Butera showed off his hops, while Markell Carter also left his feet to help the young Red Raiders soar to heights they last reached in 2014 by taking down previously unbeaten Orchard Park, 16-12, in a clash between ranked Class AA teams Friday.
In front of a Strider Field crowd in excess of 2,000 on a cold, autumn evening, Leeper’s 44-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-forever play with 7 minutes, 40 seconds left gave Jamestown the lead for good. Butera and Carter each made interceptions with under 5 minutes left to preserve it and enable the Red Raiders to win their first division title in five years and secure the No. 1 seed for the Section VI playoffs, which begin next Friday.
“With these kids, they’re young but they’re such competitors and they’re tough,” said longtime Jamestown coach Tom Langworthy of his team which has just eight seniors and 22 underclassmen. “This one means a lot because we put in so much, and you really appreciate these wins more when you don’t have them every year. … For us to win it against a really good opponent on senior night was really special.”
Leeper caught three passes for 84 yards. Twice, he took flight while being closely defended to come down with jump balls. The biggest came on a drive headed backward until freshman quarterback Trey Drake (8 for 17, 188 yards, two TDs, one interception) lofted a ball down field with Leeper, a junior who plays basketball, taking advantage of the mismatch for the score.
“We needed a big play, coach called on me," Leeper said. “I went up and got it, stayed on my feet and just tried to get to the touchdown as best as I could.
“Usually I get a pass, a couple (jump balls) every game. I’m a very tall receiver. I run the route hard, I get off my man, create space and just get the ball.”
Fellow basketball player Butera, a sophomore, then made a head’s up athletic play. With OP driving, a Red Raider tipped a Jack Sharp pass. Butera jumped over/through the intended receiver for the interception with 4:49 left. Since the ball was tipped, the contact was perfectly legal.
With 2:11 left, Carter, a junior, deflected a pass and lunged to intercept the ball at Jamestown’s 38 before the it hit the turf to snuff out the Quakers’ last chance to drive down the field for victory.
“I just seen the dude coming out, and I saw the ball in the air," Carter said. "I reacted as fast as I could. I hit the ball, it just bounced up, kept my eyes on the ball and I just grabbed it. It was the greatest moment ever.”
The game was a physical, entertaining affair that was clean (the handful of penalties called were mostly illegal procedure or offsides with just one hold) between two of the News’ ranked large schools. No. 3 OP (6-1, 5-1) came in looking to go unbeaten during the regular season for the first time since winning the state title in 2011. No. 5 Jamestown (6-1, 5-1) last secured a No. 1 seed during its state championship year in 2014.
The Quakers, who played without injured star linebacker Mike Pataky, took the running game away from Jamestown (34 carries, 88 yards). They had a chance to take the lead before halftime after forcing a turnover with 94 seconds left in the second quarter. OP drove to the Raiders’ 15 with ease but stalled when it failed on three tries to gain the yard necessary for a possession-extending first down.
Orchard Park came into the clash with one of the top offenses in Western New York (30.3 points per game) and a quarterback in Sharp who has thrown for more than 1,500 yards and had 19 touchdown passes. Jamestown’s defense bent but didn’t break, limiting OP to 241 yards, and recording a takedown of Sharp in the end zone for a safety in the third quarter to pull within 12-9.
The Red Raiders scored first as Demari Jones capped a possession in which he gained a drive extending first down with a sensational run-after-the-catch effort with a desperation stretch, with a 43-yard TD reception. He perfectly read the downfield block of Elijah Rojas along the right sideline and cut inside at the proper time to take it to the house with 1:09 left in the first quarter. Andrew Dix’s PAT kick made it 7-0.
OP scored on its next possession with Sharp hooking up with Peter Liberatore on a 10-yard TD. However, Sharp’s PAT pass to an open receiver was slightly too high and fell incomplete.
The Quakers took the lead with 7 minutes left in the third quarter after Charlie Bartolotti returned an interception to the Red Raiders’ 13. Two plays later, Sharp scored on a keeper from the 2.
OP is a No. 2 seed for the playoffs and like Jamestown is guaranteed home-field advantage for the first two rounds.
“We definitely missed some opportunities," second-year Quakers coach Craig Dana said. “Jamestown is a great football team. They earned the No. 1 spot.
“They’re a good football team, we’re a good football team. We’ll bounce back from this.”
Jamestown looks to keep the good times rolling as it heads into the playoffs on a four-game winning streak with the lone loss a 2-point overtime decision at Bennett.
“This is great but it’s not the end game,” Langworthy said.