Lancaster elected to receive the 100th season-opening kickoff in program history and when that kick landed in the hands of Ethan Jurkowski, he made sure it was a memorable one.
The senior took the opening kick 85 yards and the Legends were off and running again, posting a 51-6 win over Hutch Tech in a Class AA game on Friday night in front of a packed crowd of fans and especially alumni at Foyle-Kling Field.
“We came into this game and we wanted to start out strong,” Jurkowski said. “Having all those alumni here, it motivates all of us; it’s just great to see. You can’t really even speak on it, not a lot of people have it like us.”
Lancaster improved to 474-300-38 all-time with the win and won for the 30th time in its last 31 games against Western New York competition. The Legends are gunning for a fourth straight Class AA Section VI championship.
“We always want to make our alumni proud,” fourth-year head coach Eric Rupp said. “Espeically with this being our centennial season and having so many here, we just wanted to make them proud.”
It marked the second time in four years that Lancaster returned the season-opening kickoff for a score. The Eric Rupp era as Legends head coach began when Kyle Backert returned the kick for a touchdown at Williamsville South.
“That’s the dream start to the season,” Coach Rupp said. “Kudos to those guys on the return team, they executed.”
The Engineers held tough for much of the first half – including a pair of red zone defensive stands – before being undone by some turnovers that led to twenty-two Lancaster points in a span of 3:21 that turned two-score game into a blowout.
“Offensively, we were just a step off,” Rupp said. “We can’t let teams hang around like that. We have to capitalize in the red zone.”
The game changed on Conor Mahoney’s 15-yard interception return thanks to some heavy pressure from Josh Jelonek, who hit Tech quarterback Jayden Robinson as he started to throw. The ball flipped right into the arms of Mahoney, who ran it back, diving for the pylon for his first career pick-6.
“Jelonek off the edge, man, what can you say?” said Mahony, who returned a blocked punt last year for a score. “You gotta love that kid’s aggression and he just made the play. It was surreal. I was like, ‘Did this really happen?'”
It did and Jelonek kept it going. The junior defensive end, who rapidly climbed the depth chart with a strong training camp, ended Hutch Tech’s ensuing drive, recovering an errant snap by outracing the quarterback to the ball. That led to a 2-yard scoring run by Cody Phillips.
Jason Mansell then connected with Jurkowski on a 56-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter that made it a 37-0 game at half.
Earlier, Mansell found Nick Castellana for a 17-yard score. Phillips added a 17-yard touchdown and Gianluca Fulciniti added a 1-yard score for the Legends.
Before the game, players, coaches, and cheerleaders from the team’s first 99 years were honored in a midfield ceremony. An old school helmet sits at midfield and two fancy “100 Years” logos are on the field as well, painted by field engineer Brian Koperski.
“So special,” Mahony said. “The tradition here just means so much to this whole team. We know this whole community has our backs.”
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