For anybody who worried that the Orchard Park football team might have a down year in 2017, be assured they’re going to be fine.
The Quakers bounced back from a tough Week 1 loss and defeated the Niagara Wheatfield Falcons 46-30 in Section VI Class AA football action Friday night.
After scoring the opening touchdown of the second half, the Quakers found themselves outscored 22-3 at the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter. However, Orchard Park kept their composure and took back control of the game when sophomore quarterback Jack Sharp found classmate Tristan Lancaster along the sideline for a 46-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach for the Falcons.
It was exactly what the doctor ordered, as the Quakers were coming off a 27-7 loss to McKinley last week.
“It just felt good to win,” senior David Perkins said. “We came together and played well. We wanted to get back out there after last week.”
The game got off to a quick start as Ryne Deitz took the opening kickoff to midfield for Orchard Park. The Quakers took advantage driving the ball down the field, finishing with a 3-yard run touchdown run by Perkins.
Jordan Parks and the Falcons responded on the next drive. Park had a 45-yard run to put his team in the red zone, then ran up the middle and converted a 4th and 1. Nick Stott found a hole and took it 4 yards for a touchdown. Wheatfield took the lead after making the two-point conversion.
Deitz found a gaping hole on the kick return giving the OP offense a drive start at the Falcon 27 yard-line.
After getting stopped on their first three plays inside the 10-yard line, the Orchard Park offense finally cashed in on the strong field position with another Perkins touchdown. The Quakers converted the 2-point try and took a 15-8 lead, early in the second quarter.
It was a major turning point for the Falcons, who were pound for pound with the Quakers in the first quarter, and then lost their edge after that score in the second.
Niagara Wheatfield head coach Russ Nixon felt that it was the deciding the moment of the game.
“Football is a game of momentum,” Nixon said. “If we are able to come up with that goal line stand then we’ve got the momentum. But OP punched it in. Then in the second quarter we dug ourselves a hole. That was the difference.”
Perkins scored his third straight touchdown of the night on a 16-yard run with seven minutes left in the second quarter, after carrying Orchard Park for most of the 80-yard drive.
The senior running back is one of the older players on a young Quaker team. According to Orchard Park head coach Gene Tundo, he’s a great leader to have.
“He’s got a lot of spirit and spunk,” Tundo said. “He plays as hard as he can every play.”
The Quakers fit one more score in before halftime as Sharp hit senior Nic Bruce for 13 yards to give the Orchard Park the 29-8 lead.
Wheatfield’s woes carried into the second half, as the Falcons fumbled just a few plays into the opening drive. Bruce picked up the fumble and took it 30 yards for the score.
The Falcons suddenly got their wings back on the next drive. Parks successfully faked out the defense and ran the ball 43 yards down to the OP 7-yard line. Wheatfield converted the opportunity as Josh Brown pounded it in from 2-yards out for the score.
On Orchard Park’s next drive kicker Brian Strybel hit a 30-yard field goal to extend the Quaker lead to 39-14 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Strybel hopes to follow in the footsteps of Canisius grads Blake Haubeil and Micheal Tarbutt as the senior is a Division-I kicking prospect.
For Tundo, having a kicker with a caliber like Strybel’s gives the Quakers a major edge.
“It’s an advantage,” Tundo said. “He does a great job. He kicked three extra points and a field goal, that’s a whole another touchdown for us.”
But Wheatfield didn’t go away. Brown came up with a big 23-yard run bringing the Falcons in the red zone. As the fourth quarter began, Parks made an unbelievable play on third down escaping pressure and taking it 14 yards along the left side for the score.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Orchard Park special teams couldn’t cover the kick and the Falcons recovered in at the Quaker 25-yard line.
The Wheatfield quarterback scored again in a play that was almost a carbon copy of the previous touchdown run to bring the Falcons within nine of Orchard Park with nine minutes to go.
Nixon was proud of the way his team fought back in the second half.
“Our philosophy is that there is no quit in us,” Nixon said. “We pushed the players real hard in camp so they would be prepared to play anyone. We tell them ‘the game isn’t over until the final whistle.’”
The Falcons continued to fight but two late fourth quarter interceptions by senior Ethan Falsone sealed it for Orchard Park.
Next: Orchard Park will head to rival Lancaster to face the Legends in a rematch of last year’s sectional championship game. Niagara Wheatfield continues its campaign with a non-league game at Grand Island. Both games will kick off Friday night at 7.