Salamanca may have capped its regular season with a thrilling 23-21 victory over Maple Grove a week ago, but the Warriors hope they haven’t shown the Red Dragons their best.
The victory tied the Warriors and Red Dragons in the Section 6 Class D standings at 3-3, but Maple Grove kept the second seed based on adjusted point differential (plus-33 to minus-44). Thus Maple Grove (5-3) hosts tonight’s sectional semifinals (7 p.m. in Dunkirk) against the Warriors hoping to avoid a repeat of a week ago.
Just how much can Salamanca take from that game, given that coach Paul Haley acknowledged he didn’t want to show too much knowing he’d meet the same team in the playoffs?
“Hopefully it translates pretty good,” Haley said of his team’s Week 8 success. “But I just hope the kids come in and play with the same confidence we finished the game with. We started the game a little slow that first quarter and it's kind of been our problem all year. If we come in right off the bat and play like we can, I think it's going to be a good game.”
That being said, Haley expects a “fired up” Maple Grove team.
“After the way they handled us the first game (49-22 at Salamanca in Week 3), maybe they were overlooking us a bit,” he said, “so this time I'm sure they're going to be ready. They've got some really good athletes over there. I'm sure those guys are going to be pumped up and ready to go this week.”
After a 1-3 start, Salamanca is now 4-4. Playing home-and-homes with its three Class D opponents, Haley knew Salamanca would face a difficult schedule with the likes of Clymer/Sherman/Panama, Maple Grove and non-league games with Olean and Franklinville/Ellicottville, who the Warriors would split against.
“It's definitely the direction we wanted to go,” Haley said of how his team finished the year. “I think we had probably one of the tougher schedules around, especially for being a D. Two teams in our division are ranked in the top five of the state for most of the year. So that's tough, plus our non-league we had Ellicottville, who is tough every year, and we had a B school in Olean. Then every game we played with Cattaraugus(-Little Valley) has been a one-score game for the most part.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a tough year and we just had to get rolling at the right time. We talked about all year, no matter what we did, it boils down to the playoff game.”
Maple Grove’s 21 points in Week 8 were its second-lowest of the season. Quarterback Carson Crist and running back/receiver Easton Tanner lead a potent offense.
“He's great, he's phenomenal,” Haley said of Tanner, “but that being said, Carson is one of the better quarterbacks around too. He does a good job getting the ball in the right spot, hanging in the pocket, so both those two, they really make them go.”
— In the other Class D semifinal, No. 4 Cattaraugus-Little Valley (1-7) visits unbeaten CSP (8-0) on Saturday in Sherman. The Wolfpack, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class D, beat the T-Wolves 54-12 and 40-0 this season.
— Randolph/Frewsburg looks to bring a more healthy lineup to its second playoff game after getting past Akron, 21-12, in the Section 6 Class C quarterfinals. The Cardinals (6-2), seeded second out of C South, visit C North No. 1 seed Cleveland Hill (7-1) on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Cheektowaga High School.
After suffering a hamstring injury in the regular season finale against Portville, quarterback Tyler Hind sat out the first-round game, as did two of the team’s top running backs, Deter Miinte and Nick Marsh. R/F coach Brent Brown expects both Miinte and Marsh to return, the latter for the first time since Week 4 against Chautauqua Lake/Westfield, but Hind remains out. Still, the return of backfield depth lightens the load on fullback Skylar Wright, who ran 39 times against Akron.
“That's about as healthy as we've been,” Brown said. “Deter's playing with a cast on, so it makes it a little bit tougher, but Nick Marsh looks pretty good and (in) all our sets now, we've got backs again, so that does help us. It lets Skylar play where he's used to playing and it gives us a little bit of flexibility there.”
Quarterback Javon Thomas and running back Aaron Wahler both have more than 1,000 rushing yards on the season, both surpassing 100 yards in their last seven games. Cleveland Hill advanced to the semis with a 32-6 victory over Chautauqua Lake/Westfield, 32-6. R/F beat CL/W 41-19 in the regular season.
“They've got three super fast kids, but one is also about 240 pounds and they just pound the ball and pound the ball and pound the ball,” Brown said, “and pretty soon they make a couple guys miss or they run a couple guys over and score long touchdowns. So obviously you've got to tackle, you've got to be able to tackle and that's not easy. They're good.”
Given Cleveland Hill’s track record as back-to-back sectional champions, Brown acknowledged the Cardinals are underdogs. But he sees some similarities between the run-first offenses that could make for a competitive game.
"I think we're without question underdogs going into this game on record alone and the success that they've had, but we're both a lot alike,” he said. “This could be the fastest game every with all the running that's going on. You've got to score some points, our offense has held their own pretty much all year as well, we've been kind of tough to stop, they certainly are going to be tough to stop.
"I think it might boil down to mistakes, penalties and we've got to be able to tackle. And if we can't tackle, they'll run away with it. But if we can tackle, I think it might be a good game. And the weather might be a factor too. It's supposed to be nasty and cold and turnovers could be big. You just don't know."