The North Tonawanda Lumberjacks know that by no means will it be an easy task, but if they follow the game plan they can pull off what most will consider an upset and punch their ticket to The Stadium.
On Friday night, the Jacks, the No. 2 team in Section VI Class A North, will go head-to-head with the Class A South Champion Bennett Tigers at All-High Stadium for the right to play at New Era Field next weekend in the Sectional championship.
“They’re a very, very good football team,” NT head coach Henry Fumerelle said. “They’re well coached with a tremendous amount of speed. A Division I (Boston College) commit in (RB) Isaiah McDuffie, they have a stable of backs and linebackers that can run and hit. So it’s gonna be a huge challenge for us to contain all that speed.”
Coming into the game at 6-2 overall, the Jacks advanced to the semifinals after a 20-16 win over Iroquois in a quarterfinal game that was played in the driving rain.
Facing a skilled Tigers squad that went to the Stadium the last two seasons the Jacks know that in the eyes of most they are the underdogs. According to senior running back Chris Labonte, that’s a role that suits NT just fine as it takes all the pressure off of them and puts it on the shoulders of the Tigers who are trying to break through and win their first sectional crown.
“I think it’s actually good if they see us as the underdog because we’re just as good as them, if not better,” Chris Labonte said. “So if they think we’re an underdog and they go light on us or don’t take their practices seriously then that’s good for us.”
But there is a reason why the Tigers are the favorites. Though the Tigers have lost in the Class C (2015) and Class B (2014) championship games they have a boat load of skilled players who have that experience of playing at the venue that used to be called “The Ralph”, something that the Jacks have not experienced since 2009 when they were the unbeaten Class AA state champions. While Fumerelle said that big game setting of playing at the Stadium is certainly important, he feels his kids can keep a level head.
“I have a really composed group of seniors that are very focused,” he said. “So I think we’ll give it our best. I don’t think the semifinals spotlight will hurt us, but the experience will definitely help them.”
While they might not be in the elite class of McDuffie in the eyes of most observers, Labonte and fellow senior Joe Dotterweich are as damaging a duo in Section VI. Dotterweich is also arguably the most reliable kicker in Section VI. So if it comes down to kicks, the Jacks know they have someone who can get the job done.
NT could also very well surprise the Tigers with not only the power but also the agility of its linemen like Bryce Schmigel, Tyler Beasock and 6-foot-6, 295 pound Robert Rozicki and 6-foot-5 Alex Johnson (DE/TE). A team-wide commitment to improved agility could be the X-factor that gives NT the edge.
“In the off season all of the guys, we were all in the weight room all throughout the summer,” Labonte said. “We all got really strong. If you see people on film you don’t really see how big or how strong they are. I think we’ll really surprise them in those first couple plays. That first drive we’ll show them that we are strong and we can compete with them.”
Working harder then ever before, the Jacks are also taking a moment to take it all in and enjoy still being in the hunt to get to the Stadium.
“I would love to make it to “The Ralph” because my brother (Dan) was on the 2008 team when we made it to “The Ralph,’” said Bryce Schmigel. “It would just be a great honor to be there.”