Throughout his high school days, Erik Bartnik always made the trip to the Kensington Lions All-Star football game to root on his Cheektowaga Central teammates – each time watching his side fall short.
This year he had the chance to do something about it.
Bartnik headlined a strong day for athletes from the Town of Cheektowaga, which led the South to a 13-6 win over the South in the 42nd annual game on Wednesday at Depew High School. The win was the first for the South side since 2013.
“I’ve been coming here the last three years and every year the South loses,” said Bartnik, the Offensive MVP for the South. “We just wanted to change that.”
They did, led by recent graduates from Cheektowaga Central and Cleveland Hill. Bartnik had 43 rushing yards including the go-ahead TD in the third quarter. From there, it was up to a hard-hitting South defense that allowed just 70 yards and two first downs in the second half – and 160 total yards for the game.
“This is a good, physical defense,” said Cleveland Hill’s Matt Eldridge, who was named the defensive MVP for his side. “We worked on it all week and we were ready to get out here and run it. It helped having a lot of players on the field – all of these guys are great players.”
The first big plays came from the North. An interception by Jalyn Nelson of St. Joe’s set up a touchdown drive, capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by RaeQwon Greer of Canisius.
The North answered in the second quarter with a 3-yard TD run from Springville’s Ian Baker to tie the game at 6-6 at halftime.
The biggest second-half play came on special teams. Alden’s Michael Handley forced a fumble on a punt return and his brother Alex recovered at the South 22. Shortly thereafter, Bartnik bulldozed his way in from five yards out.
“We were able to pound the ball a little bit in the second half,” Bartnik said. “The linemen were doing an excellent job and we were able to keep the ball out of their hands.”
The North never put together a serious drive after that point and the South kept that lead and improved to 23-19 in the series.
“It was a pretty intense game,” said Depew’s Tyler Biersbach, who was named the line MVP for the South. “It’s definitely different than the season because you’re playing with all the best people. It was really fun to play in a game like that.”
Bartnik wasn’t the only Warrior to have an impact. Cheektowaga teammate Seven Turpin led all players with 58 rushing yards on 10 carries. Stephan Parker had a nifty 35-yard touchdown reception called back by penalty – and as is customary for big events at Depew, Cheektowaga student Jack Kruezer handled the public address duties.
For Cleveland Hill, Nathan Pawlowski had a first-half interception and Tyler Phillips was all over the field as well. A total of nine athletes represented the four Cheektowaga schools. Brian Sullivan and Austin Reamsnyder of Maryvale and Brandon Kohl of JFK were also a part of the winning team.
For the North, Greer was the Offensive MVP, while his teammate Sean Kennelly was the MVP of the lineman. St. Joe’s Michael Motley was named defensive MVP.
And even in defeat, it was a good time for the North siders.
“It was a fun experience,” Greer told WNY Athletics reporter Francis Boeck. “Coming out here, we didn’t get the result we wanted, but I’d definitely do it all over again. It was fun, especially coming from the Monsignor Martin league, we play no public school teams. All these kids are my friends, so talking junk on the sidelines and after a tackle or after a run, it was fun.”
***Pictures Courtesy of Cal Phillips/WNYAthletics.com***