JAMESTOWN — A run of close-game magic went dry for the Salamanca football team, forced by its aggressive counterparts from Southwestern.
The Warriors went 3-0 in one-score games last season, including a 14-13 win over the Trojans. This year Salamanca had yet to play a game decided by fewer than 10 points, but in each of the last two weeks it pulled away from tight second-half games to beat Allegany-Limestone 28-6 and Fredonia 40-30.
The Warriors did not get — or force — the bounces needed to keep that streak alive Friday night, however, falling to Southwestern 15-10 in a battle for first place in the Section 6 Class C South division.
In a tight, defensive game, the Warriors scraped together a 14-play drive before halftime to get on the board with an Arlen Newark field goal as the second quarter expired, trailing 6-3. After stalling a strong Southwestern drive for a Trojans field goal, trailing 9-3, the Warriors produced their biggest play of the night on a tipped pass from quarterback Maddox Isaac to wide receiver Jason McGraw for a 59-yard touchdown. The ball went through the hands of a teammate and bounced off a Trojan defender before McGraw grabbed it and raced for the score and an extra point gave Salamanca a 10-9 third-quarter lead.
But a third-and-18 heave from Trojans quarterback Jameson Walsh went through a Salamanca defender’s hands and into those of Southwestern tight end Cameron Lemk for a 41-yard gain. The Trojans finished the drive for a 15-10 lead early in the fourth.
“It was, ‘alright, we just caught a break, let’s go, we’re going to do something here,’” Warriors coach Chad Bartoszek said of McGraw’s TD. “And then they come back and it’s a similar play. We’re very similar teams right now. Both of us can make some noise, both of us are pretty dangerous. We can still make this thing happen because of some of the wins we’ve had previously. So we’re still here. It’s a tough place to win.”
Salamanca had three possessions after Southwestern took the 15-10 lead. The first went four-and-out with a failed fourth down pass near midfield, but the Warriors forced a punt afterward. Walsh — the Trojans’ punter and backup quarterback — made a 41-yard quick punt that rolled out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
Pinned back, the Warriors drove all the way to the Southwestern 20, keyed by a 41-yard pass to McGraw and a 23-yard pass to Newark. But a bad snap on first down resulted in a 17-yard loss, mitigated by a Southwestern personal foul for a late hit. The dead ball penalty still gave Salamanca a 2nd-and-12 and the Warriors failed to score with a turnover on third-and-long.
Salamanca forced one more punt, regaining the ball with 1:16 to play at its own 48, but Southwestern linebacker Mitch Pike intercepted Isaac’s first pass of the drive to seal it.
“It’s a strange game,” Bartoszek said. “They were keyed up. We knew what this was going to be. We were expecting a dogfight and it was going to be a close game. Their defense has been playing super aggressive, they’re lateral, they’re physical. We knew we needed to play a field position game. We completely lost that (field position) game today.
“Now once we got up here on that last drive, it’s like OK, we’re in four-down territory. Bad snap, personal foul doesn’t get us a first down, you’re still at 2nd-and-12, so instead of 1st-and-10, we would have probably went through there, you’re at 2nd-and-12, you’ve got to make something happen. They outplayed us today. They were pumped, they knew what they needed to do and they deserve the credit today.”
Walsh replaced starting QB Owen Hayes, who exited with a second-quarter injury, finishing 7-of-12 for 103 yards and led Trojans runners with nien carries for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Southwestern held a 3-0 turnover advantage.
Of the one-score victory, Trojans coach Jake Burkholder noted, “It’s good. It builds character. Salamanca’s a heck of a team. They’re coached very well, they’ve got players all over the place. For our guys to come out and compete and come out with the W, I think that gives them a lot of confidence, builds just some strength and toughness for our team.”
The Trojans held Salamanca workhorse back Jesse Stahlman to 25 yards on 12 carries, while Isaac went 7-for-12 with a touchdown and two interceptions. McGraw had 100 yards and a touchdown on two catches while Tayoni Galante had two catches for 38 yards.
Salamanca (3-2, 2-1) remains in contention for the division title, but now needs help and possibly a point differential tiebreaker. In sole possession of first place, Southwestern (4-1, 3-0) hosts Fredonia (4-1, 2-1) next week.
Bartoszek wasn’t in the mood for moral victories, but saw character in the Warriors’ play against Southwestern.
“We’ve built up a certain character that we will stay in these games,” Bartoszek said. “They had us down in there, short field, we held them to field goals (Southwestern went 1-for-2 on its kicks). Just like last week, that’s character right there.”