SALAMANCA — A new era of sorts for Salamanca football began under some of the most unusual, but ultimately memorable, circumstances Thursday night.
The Warriors played for the first time on a brand-new turf field at Veterans Memorial Park — their first game in 17 months — on the opening night of Section 6’s “Fall II” football season. And on April 1, the weather forecast was no joke, as snow covered that new turf before kickoff and accumulated in inches by the final whistle.
Salamanca triumphed in the unique setting, pounding the running game to defeat Maple Grove, 52-6, in a Section 6 Class D league game.
“Obviously the weather matched the style of the game for sure,” said second-year Salamanca coach Chad Bartoszek. “Obviously what we wanted to do offensively was utilize our size and our strength and some of our speed and the weather kind of accommodated us and it matched our style. We emphasized a lot of defense this camp and our kids were all over the place. I know having the turf in this situation was probably a lifesaver because I don’t know how well the game would have been played without it. We would have been all over the place.
“But just getting this one under our belt, letting these kids start to create their own tradition was a whole part of this. This is their field and they got off to a good start.”
Sophomore running back Jessie Stahlman scored four touchdowns, carrying the ball 23 times for 160 yards. In total, Salamanca had 46 rushes for 352 yards. Senior Ezra Stahlman had 11 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including a 61-yard breakaway run in the fourth quarter. Salamanca kneeled on the two-point conversion to finish up the 52-6 win.
The Warriors utilized an experienced offensive line with all five starters returning.
“Jessie’s a really tough sophomore, adds a different dynamic,” Bartoszek said. “On top of our line, we’ve added a fullback in Amos Whitcomb who’s just adding to the size of our backfield. We’ve got holes there that weren’t easy to see today because of the weather, slipping and sliding, but they’re big enough and good enough where if they can just wall things off there’s going to be places to run. It makes things difficult on the defense.”
Salamanca senior quarterback Lucas McKenna attempted just three passes, but had the distinction of scoring the first touchdown on the new field, a two-yard keeper in the first quarter. Salamanca ballooned its 8-0 lead into 30-0 at halftime thanks to three Jessie Stahlman touchdowns in the second quarter.
Maple Grove had just 71 yards of total offense and negative-35 yards rushing, largely due to two botched punt attempts: the Red Dragons’ punter was stopped short after a bad snap and later touched his knee to the ground while handling a snap. Both plays set up short field position for a pair of Salamanca touchdowns in the second quarter.
Bartoszek expected a cold opener to the season, but the snowfall took his team by surprise.
“For a while, it was cool. It was like, ‘Oh this is awesome, we’re playing in the snow.’” he said. “Then I didn’t expect inches of snow, of standing snow. It was cool. I’d love to be a kid playing in this game. This is what you dream of.”
Next week the Warriors welcome Franklinville/Ellicottville, the 2019 undefeated regular season league champions, to Vets Park on Friday, April 9. F/E picked up a season-opening non-league game Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) at Akron after having its original opener at Silver Creek canceled due to a COVID pause for the Black Knights.
“We’re giving them a day off (Friday),” Bartoszek said. “This has been 11 straight days, so we’re going off tomorrow, Saturday we’ll (watch) film and do some of our prep for F/E, then Easter Sunday and we’re right back into it. Tomorrow’s a well-deserved day off.”