The last time North Tonawanda football won a playoff game, the current roster was in middle school. Now as juniors and seniors, all of them had a moment that they will never forget for the rest of the lives. The “Boys of Fall” added to the list of great moments to come out of the Lumberyard this year with their 20-16 victory over the Iroquois Chiefs on Friday night in a Section VI Class A matchup. It was also a historic night as it was their first sectional victory since 2011, which also happened at George Vetter Stadium. From the moment he took over the program in March of 2015, head coach Henry Fumerelle had one mission: to make NT a postseason contender again. Through their hard work in the off-season and by taking one day at a time, Fumerelle has done just that. “I wanted to bring back the power and tradition in North Tonawanda when I came here,” he said after the game. “And these guys, especially our seniors, they believed in us. We took some adversity this year but here we are… we’re now in the semifinals.”
The weather was a challenge for both teams right to the final snap. After the Chiefs started the game on a three-and-out, the NT offense immediately went to work as Chris Labonte (11 carries, 93 yards) dashed for a 14-yard touchdown. The Chiefs, however, tied the game up at 7 near the end of the first quarter as their top halfback, Brandon Yax (27 carries, 151 yards, 2 touchdowns), ran along the right sideline for a 48-yard score. A major highlight of the game was the strong play of both defenses, especially in the last three minutes of the first half. After Chiefs defensive specialist Nate Ermer blocked Zack Woodard’s punt, the latter made up for his mistake by providing a big hit on Yax to prevent him from getting the first down inside NT territory.
A halfback pass backfired for NT on their next offensive drive as Kyle McNeill tried to find Patrick Milbrand but was intercepted by Chiefs safety Jack Edwards. The next play, Edwards was intercepted by his counter-part, Zack Woodard, who also finished with 17 tackles on the defensive side of the ball. That led to Woodard’s (5 of 7 passing, 73 yards) 10-yard touchdown pass to favorite target Patrick Milbrand to give NT a 14-7 edge at the half. After the game, Woodard said that the guys quickly put their disappointment aside after their offensive error and, to paraphrase his tweet after games, moved onto the next one. “We know that defense wins championships,” he said. “Once we get the momentum, we’re hard to stop.”
Another key component to the Lumberjacks victories this season has been the play of Joe Dotterweich. Not only can he run the ball at fullback (15 carries, 91 yards), he can take over games at linebacker (10 tackles) and more importantly, as a kicker. His kicking was key down the stretch: a 27-yard field goal after NT started the second half on a drive that was clocked at just under eight minutes, and his boot from 37 yards out, which ultimately clinched the Lumberjacks victory. Dotterweich said afterwards the key to their success was working together, which was preached to them in practice all week. “We knew they were going to come out strong and play to their best of their ability. We just had to finish.” “Joe’s worked very hard this season,” added coach Fumerelle. “He’s got a very strong leg and he’s one of the better guys in Western New York.”
The Chiefs, under head coach Keith Marshall, did not go down without a fight, however. In fact, on their final drive, they converted consecutive fourth and long opportunities to move inside NT thanks to big runs from Yax and Ross. On a 4th and 3 play at the NT 15-yard line, Coach Fumerelle told his players this was the most important play of the season. The red-and-blue boys responded as defensive lineman Austin Tober tackled Edwards on a quarterback keeper to seal the victory, his 10th tackle of the night. “That last out was huge,” coach Fumerelle said after the game. “I told the guys that this was the play of the year and they came through.”
Outside of Yax’s strong performance, the Chiefs were bottled up offensively. Fullback Sam Ross was held to only 51 yards rushing, speedster Mike Nolan only recorded 23 rushing yards and the passing game was only one play for -7 yards. Coach Marshall was unavailable for comment after the game but expect them to be back next season as one of the top teams in Class A South.
As for the Lumberjacks, other notable contributors defensively were Alex Johnson and Kyle McNeill with 10 tackles apiece. With the victory, the Lumberjacks will have a shot to appear at “The Cap”, New Era Field, when they visit the Bennett Tigers, who won over the Grand Island Vikings, 24-7, at All-High Stadium October 28 in the Section VI Class A Semifinals.
1st Quarter- Chris Labonte 14-yard touchdown run, Joe Dotterweich PAT NT 7-0
1st Quarter- Brandon Yax 48-yard touchdown run, Dylan Giancarlo PAT Tied at 7
2nd Quarter- Zack Woodard 10-yard TD pass to Patrick Milbrand, Joe Dotterweich PAT NT 14-7
3rd Quarter- Joe Dotterweich 27-yard Field Goal NT 17-7
3rd Quarter- Brandon Yax 5-yard touchdown run, Dylan Giancarlo PAT NT 17-14
4th Quarter- Joe Dotterweich 37-yard Field Goal NT 20-14
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