In a packed house and in front of two very loud fan bases the Maryvale Flyers overcame a two score deficit to hang on to beat the Newfane Panthers 18-15 on Friday night at Maryvale in the first round of the Class B playoffs.
It was the downfield passing game of the Flyers versus the high-powered rush offense of the Panthers that set the stage for this football game to turn into a potential track meet. However, the story of the game was written by both team’s defenses and the big plays from both offenses.
“We just made sure that our defensive ends stayed disciplined,” Maryvale senior running back/linebacker Rashad Law said. “We told our outside linebackers at half time to be sure to fill gaps because their option is very dangerous.”
The fifth seeded Panthers came into this game with a 6-1 overall record and second place finish the B3 division. They have a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in senior quarterback Brandon Gross and senior running back Julian Nixon, 29 rushing touchdowns, and a defense that had given up less than 100 points in the regular season. This was the Panthers’ first playoff game in 24 years.
The fourth seeded Flyers also ended the season with a 6-1 overall record and second place in the B1 standings. Sophomore quarterback Connor Desiderio passed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. They scored a team total 21 rushing touchdowns on the season.
Newfane’s first play from scrimmage Gross would scamper for a 47 yard pick up. After a strong defensive series by Maryvale, Newfane found themselves in a 4th and 1 situation. Gross would take it himself for the first down. Gross would carry it into the end zone for the Panthers touchdown. He then evading what looked like a sure sack tp complete a pass for the two-point conversion making the score 8-0 Newfane.
Flyers’ senior running back Dylan Casey busted loose for a 20 yard gain. A huge tackle for loss by Newfane defensive lineman Brad Rutherford dropped the Flyers back near mid field. On the very next play, Nixon stole the ball right out of the Maryvale runner’s arms and the Panthers took over at the Flyer 45 yard line.
Just as it looked like the momentum was all in favor of Newfane, the Maryvale defense led by bruising senior linebacker Nick Costanzo forced a Panther drive that lasted nearly five minutes in which Newfane was forced to turn the ball over on downs inside Maryvale territory. The Flyer defense capped their stand with huge sack by senior defensive lineman Chad Beyer.
Desiderio immediately got the explosive senior wide receiver Ray Blackwell involved with a 15 yard strike to begin the second quarter. At the eleven-minute mark Casey again would gain a first down and Law burst loose a 12-yard carry. The Flyers found themselves in a 4th and 12 situation on the Newfane 26 yard line. Desiderio aired it out for Blackwell and connected in the end zone to put six on the board for Maryvale. The two-point conversion attempt was stopped by Newfane to make the score 8-6 Newfane with under nine minutes left in the second quarter.
While the Panthers continued to rely on their running game of Gross and Nixon, the Flyers stout front seven led by Costanzo and Beyer bottled the Panthers run attempts on first downs. Gross attempted and completed his first pass of the night to junior receiver Reese Cassinelli for a first down. With four minutes left in the half the Panthers found themselves again in Flyer territory. Gross, heavy under pressure, rolled out and escaped a sack but forced the ball into a tight window and was intercepted on the goal line by Casey.
The Panthers were at the Maryvale 21 yard line with 4th and four with 28 seconds left. Gross was able to gain enough yardage for a fresh set of downs at the Flyer 11 yard line with nineteen seconds left. On the next play, Gross hit senior receiver Chad Dunbar for the Panther touchdown to give a Newfane 15-6 lead at the half.
On third down the Flyers went to the air again and Desiderio hit Blackwell in what may potentially be the catch of year in high school football as Blackwell was mid-air, being hoisted by a defender, and completely turning his body from facing the sideline to infield to make a one handed grab with his left hand for a 25 yard gain to the Newfane 43 yard line.
Junior running back Jay Henley and Casey carried the ball on following plays to put the Flyers at the Newfane 28. Desiderio again connected with Blackwell for a long touchdown score that put the Flyers back in it but still down 15-12 with less than ten minutes remaining in the third.
“We were not ready for that defense…that is a great football team over there,” Desiderio said after the game. “We went to our guys at half time and said we’ve been down before. We’ve been in this position before, let’s bring it home.”
Each team had possessions in which they punted back and forth in what was a defensive struggle.
The Flyer defense forced a Panther 4th and 10 from the Maryvale 37 yard line. Gross took the snap and rolled right but it was Blackwell who came up with the huge defensive play intercepting Gross’s pass at the Maryvale 23 yard line. The Flyers were unable able to capitalize on the turnover.
A shifty run by Henley that was nearly broken for a long touchdown set the Flyer offense up deep into Panther territory. After a tough short yardage defensive stand, Law would take the handoff into the end zone for the 1 yard Flyer touchdown and take the lead, 18-15.
After a few more first downs Newfane was able to stop Maryvale at their forty-eight-yard line and get the ball back on downs. Newfane was out of timeouts with fifty-five seconds remaining. The clock continued to run and with seven seconds left on the Maryvale 44 yard line Gross launched a last second pass that was broken up in the endzone.
“Playoff football is a different animal,” Flyers head coach Jeff Buccieri said. “We knew this was going to be tight game. We were hoping we could hold them to two touchdowns and we were lucky to do so.”
It was the Flyer defensive unit led by Costanzo, Beyer, and Blackwell that ultimately made the final stand to end the game and seal the win.
“We told them this was going to be a slugfest”, Buccieri added. “Whoever had that will to finish is going to win the day.”
Maryvale will head to Lackawanna to take on the top seeded Steelers on Saturday.
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