This was supposed to be the unofficial end of the Lancaster High School football team’s run of dominance.
The big names from the last two seasons have graduated. The flu bug struck. A big-time injury hit. And the Legends were facing an undefeated Williamsville North team many consider the favorite this year in Class AA.
But champions don’t make excuses, they make statements.
In a rematch of last year’s Section VI championship game, Lancaster made a big-time statement on Friday night with a 34-26 road win over the Spartans, the Legends’ 23rd straight victory over Section VI competition and 18th straight regular season win.
“It means everything,” Lancaster junior Gianluca Fulciniti said. “Everyone just doubted us but we’re brotherhood here. No one backed down. We had sick people. We had banged up people but we have that next man up mentality. We don’t make excuses.”
Down six with 5 1/2 minutes left in a back-and-forth battle, Fulciniti punched it in from one yard out and Clarke Whiteside hit the go-ahead extra point. After Lancaster came up with the stop on defense, Wiliamsville North conceded a 25-yard touchdown to Lancaster’s Brandon Wingard (20 carries, 113 yards) to give its high-powered offense one last chance to tie. But Fulciniti sealed the deal with a fourth-down interception and Lancaster again proved it’s ready handle any challenge.
“We don’t make any excuses for ourselves; we just keep working no matter what,” Legends coach Eric Rupp said after his team improved to 3-0. “That’s why I love these kids. I tell the kids all the time, players graduate but expectations don’t. So we’re just going to keep working and our goal is to be the best team at the end of the year.”
Fulciniti and sophomore Jason Mansell proved to be a great dual-threat as the team’s co-quarterbacks. Mansell was 17-of-31 for 159 yards and two touchdowns and Fulciniti added a TD pass to Brian Martin. Fulciniti also added a fumble recovery on defense.
The star of the show on the defensive side of the ball was junior linebacker Connor Mahoney, who recorded 17 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.
The bad news on the day happened in the form of an injury to Martin, who left with his arm in a sling. Rupp said it looks like an AC joint injury, Martin will be sent for tests and is considered week-to-week.
But Lancaster proved to have plenty of options at receiver. Nick Castellano and Ethan Jurkowsky had TD catches from Mansell in a span of 3 1/2 minutes in the second quarter that helped Lancaster build a 20-12 head at halftime.
“That’s what’s great about this team; one guy goes down and there’s another guy to fill-in,” Mansell said. “That’s a tough loss for sure but we’re just going to have to keep playing hard and hopefully he can come back soon.”
Despite the halftime deficit, North was far from done. The Spartans’ dynamic passing combo of Joe Nusall and Dylan Kelly hooked up for TD passes of 52 and 54 yards to give Williamsville North that short-lived fourth quarter lead.
But in the end, ill-timed penalties and missed chances doomed the Spartans.
“We beat ourselves,” North coach Mike Mammoliti said. “You have to give them credit. They’re a good football team and I think we’re a good football team too. But we shot ourselves in the foot over and over again.”
The Legends will continue their winning streaks next Friday night at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at home when rival Clarence comes to down. The Red Devils may be 1-2 but they took the Spartans to overtime last week and are certain to come ready to play.
“It’s going to be tough,” Fulciniti said. “No games are going to be easy for us this year. We have that big target on our back. But we’re just going to have to dig deep.