SALAMANCA — On a night when Salamanca football honored its past, the Warriors of the present delivered a thrilling victory in front of their Veterans Memorial Park fans.
The Warriors played Southwestern to a scoreless first half before trading second-half touchdowns with the Trojans. Salamanca fell behind twice, but both times had touchdown drives to answer. The last score, a 4-yard Jesse Stahlman run followed by a two-point conversion pass from freshman backup quarterback Maddox Isaac to Zaron Tucker, put the Warriors ahead for the first time with 13 seconds left en route to a 14-13 victory.
Salamanca lost its senior quarterback, Hayden Hoag, for the rest of the game in the third quarter on an apparent knee injury he sustained on defense. The Warriors mostly tried to get by without a quarterback, instead utilizing Stahlman — their lead tailback — as a direct snap runner. But Stahlman went 1-for-1 as a passer, hitting Cole Hedlund for a 15-yard score in the first quarter to tie Southwestern at 6-6.
But Salamanca lost a fumble on its next drive and stalled out on the following possession before a go-ahead Southwestern score with 2:48 to play, so coach Chad Bartoszek turned to the freshman Isaac, who dressed but he planned to hold out for the junior varsity game the next day.
“Senior leader, captain goes down with a knee late, so you run whatever you've got,” Bartoszek said. “We don't really have a backup, that was a freshman that led us on that drive, did not want to put him in. He's ready, you could see, but just kind of a self principle (I) don't like playing a freshman, but it was time. We wanted to get to overtime. We could have ran Jesse every play, but once they scored, we had to open it up. “
Isaac answered the call, leading a 70-yard touchdown drive with 2-for-3 passing for 58 yards, including a 50-yard pass to Hedlund that set up Stahlman’s touchdown run.
“It was a modified season, but he led an undefeated modified season last year,” Bartoszek said of Isaac. “Everyone knows who he is in our program. He's fantastic, a great athlete, good kid. I'm always thinking about the health and wellness of our boys, but he was physically ready and our coaches just kept telling me ‘you've got to put him in.’ We were actually going to run that play (a waggle to Tucker for the two-point conversion) the first time we scored. That's just part of me maybe protecting these guys, but he's ready. He just did that against a premiere program in the Cs right now.”
Stahlman finished the night with 28 carries for 128 yards with a rushing and passing touchdown.
Salamanca (2-0, 1-0 C South) mostly slowed down a potent Southwestern passing game, holding quarterback Aidan Kennedy to 9-of-20 passing with a rushing and passing touchdown.
The Warriors pressured Kennedy for most of the night with three sacks (two for Kody Shinners and one shared by Eion Quigley and Tre Turner).
Bartoszek takes no credit for the Warriors' defensive performance, lauding his assistant coaches.
“Aaron Hill, Coach (Dustin) Ross and Coach (Paul) Furlong, they've got these kids tuned up,” he said. “When we first started and he switched over some defensive coverages, during practice we used to find holes. In the spring the holes got smaller. And in this practice session, we haven't been able to find holes, our second team versus our (defense), there's just not a lot of holes out there. We don't make a ton of mistakes and that's just the repetition from our defensive staff.”
Salamanca won despite losing the turnover battle 3-0. The first two turnovers, interceptions from Hoag to Kennedy (a safety in the Trojans’ defense) spoiled drives deep into Southwestern territory in the first half. Bartoszek said he wanted to take some chances in the red zone with a Week 2 heartbreaker from last last season in his mind — a 7-0 loss to Franklinville/Ellicottville — in which the Warriors moved the ball but could never find the end zone.
“Last year when we played F/E here, we dominated between the 20s and couldn't score, so I thought let's take a couple shots,” he said. “Of course you get a pick, you get another pick and you look like you don't know what you're doing. But we held in there, the defense held us the whole time. It's a fantastic team and I've got all the respect in the world for Southwestern. That is just an elite program going all the way back to (former coaches Jay, and his father Fran) Sirianni and all those years when we played them. It's kind of one of those wins that you won't forget.”
In its home opener, SHS had its first big football crowd since opening its new Vets Park facility and honored former coach George Whitcher by rededicating the press box to him. Dozens of his former players met Whitcher at midfield to congratulate him and show their appreciation.
“It's special, all around. I just had a feeling. Everything was perfect tonight except for that right there, quarterback going down,” Bartoszek said, gesturing to Hoag. “What a great night. We were all over the place and it was a special atmosphere. It's hard to soak it in, but now it's fun.”
Bartoszek credited his players for believing in themselves to be able to knock off a team that played in the Section 6 Class C championship last spring.
“There wasn't a huge rah-rah speech before, there wasn't a huge rah-rah speech at halftime,” he said. “That was believing. These guys can play. They've got to believe in themselves and what they did here, they had it. Physically, we had it. Now I think we're getting this belief part. Right now, the sky's the limit.”
Southwestern (0-2), meanwhile, is looking for answers after its second straight heartbreaker, having lost late at Iroquois, 22-21, in Week 1.
“It's something that we haven't experienced here in quite a while,” Trojans coach Jake Burkholder said. “We've got to want it more. I think between our guys selling out and us as coaches just making a little bit better calls and adjustments here and there, things that we just have to go back and look at and put some more time into it. So there's not a magic cure all. We've just got to put time in and work harder.
“Hats off to Salamanca, they had a great game plan and executed well. It's just another building block and learning experience for us.”