The evening of Nov. 5, 2016 won’t soon be forgotten at Cheektowaga Central. It was on that evening that the Warriors run of dominance in Section VI football came to a surprising end as upstart Dunkirk dethroned the Warriors atop Class B.
Many of the Cheektowaga players are back from last season and that disappointment has fueled the fire even more this season.
“Everybody knows we didn’t like what it felt like to lose,” senior receiver Jaquan Bush said. “We just keep that in the back of our head and move forward this season. We want to bring that championship back home.”
Cheektowaga won the 2014 and 2015 sectional championships at Ralph Wilson Stadium but New Era Field wasn’t as accommodating to the Warriors. Top-seeded Cheektowaga suffered a 46-35 loss to No. 4-seed Dunkirk, which went all the way to the state championship game.
“I think it’s on a lot of our minds,” senior guard Tariq Whitaker said. “It keeps us motivated. That loss last year kind of gives us that little extra kick this year.”
Cheektowaga is gunning to play at the Buffalo Bills home stadium for a fourth straight year. But while last year’s loss will serve as motivation this year, coach Mike Fatta is quick to remind his Warriors there’s no guarantee they’ll get a chance at redemption at New Era Field.
“We hear a lot about game that,” Fatta said “But we keep reminding them that getting there is hard to do and your first goal is your ultimate goal. We’re working on reminding them that they haven’t won a game yet. We’re really just focusing on us right now.”
The schedule’s tough as always but Cheektowaga has plenty of weapons back on board. The offensive line will be led by Whitaker, who stands at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds. Senior running back Michael Gray, who shared the load with the now graduated Seven Turpin, is another strong leader for the Warriors. Bush is another leader at wide receiver and will have higher expectations after the graduation of three-year standout Stephon Parker.
But perhaps the biggest graduation loss was that of quarterback Erik Bartnik. He threw for 2,245 yards and 23 touchdowns last season and added 638 yards and 10 more touchdowns on the ground. Junior Keshone Beal steps in under center this season and so far the Warriors like what they see.
“Erik had big shoes to fill as well,” said Fatta, referring to former standout Zak Ciezki. “Coach (Scott) Zipp does a really good job with the quarterbacks. Keshone is a really talented kid and we’re excited.”
Defensively, the front seven will feature the likes of seniors Kasean Anthony, T.J. Bass, Adam Bellaus and John Sweat. Defensively, safety Seth Conner and cornerback Alekzander Bryant will be among the leaders.
Cheektowaga will be looking to win a division championship for a seventh straight season and a ninth in 11 years. The Warriors have gone 20-2 over the past two seasons
“We’re working hard to keep that tradition going the best we can,” Whitaker said. “We’re looking pretty good. We have some work to do but I think we’re going to do well this year.