Niagara Wheatfield continued it’s impressive start to the 2018 season on Thursday night with a 35-12 win on the road on Thursday night over the Hamburg Bulldogs. With the win the Falcons are now 3-0 on the year and are 2-0 in the class A-1 division.
The 3-0 start is Niagara-Wheatfield’s best in over a decade and it’s got the players, coaches and fans excited.
“It’s been great, we’ve just been playing for each other, playing for Zig and working together to get this whole thing done,” said quarterback Jordan Parks postgame. “We have one goal and that’s to make the playoffs.”
Parks was the standout for the Falcons on offense. The senior finished the game with three rushing touchdowns, one coming on a 95-yard run late in the first half.
Hamburg was in control of the game early on; the Falcons had no answer for the three-headed rushing attack of Nick Hafner, Spencer Dix and Dominic Manzella in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs scored on their first drive of the game. A three-yard touchdown run from quarterback Josh Skelly gave Hamburg the early 6-0 lead. Skelly’s touchdown was the first points the Niagara Wheatfield defense had given up all season.
“We knew Hamburg had a good rushing attack and they brought it in the first quarter,” Falcons head coach Russ Nixon said after the game. “It took us eight minutes to wake up but I’m proud of the way we responded tonight, coming out with a 35-12 victory, we’re taking care of business on our end.”
Despite the great start, Hamburg had trouble taking care of the football. The Bulldogs found themselves in the red zone on their second and third drives of the game; but both series ended in fumbles recovered by Niagara Wheatfield.
The game’s turning point came with 6:36 left in the second quarter when a Hamburg snap went through the back of the end zone for a safety, cutting the home team’s lead to 6-2.
Niagara-Wheatfield scored on their next drive, taking a 9-6 lead on a two-yard touchdown run by Parks.
Hamburg began to respond on their next series, once again using their strong rushing attack to move down the field. But, the Bulldogs drive was thwarted with an interception by Falcons’ safety Jake DeWolf.
Following DeWolf’s interception, Niagara Wheatfield took over on it’s own five-yard line. The next play was the highlight of the game as Jordan Parks took off for a 95-yard touchdown run. With a good extra point, the Falcons led 16-6 and had all the momentum. Coach Nixon sprinted down the sidelines in joyous fashion to congratulate Parks on his run.
“It’s great as a defender to see your offense turn around and score points after you make a big stop,” DeWolf said after the win. “Especially after all the turnovers when the momentum picked up, and then our offense found the end zone. I think that’s how we find our success.”
Niagara-Wheatfield wasn’t finished scoring just yet. On the third play of Hamburg’s next drive, Falcons’ linebacker Noah Mixon recorded the team’s fourth forced turnover of the first half with an interception. Mixon’s pick led to a 27-yard touchdown run by Andrew Augugliaro to put the visitors up 22-6 going into halftime.
The second half was much of the same story for the Falcons. Despite Parks getting hurt on the first drive of the third quarter, junior quarterback Chris Gordon stepped in and found senior receiver Noah Bennett for a 40-yard touchdown pass to increase the Niagara-Wheatfield lead to 28-6.
Parks re-entered the game on the next possession for the Falcons. Parks ended up taking some snaps at receiver and running back in the fourth quarter. The senior captain scored his third and final touchdown on a 15-yard run, making the score 35-6.
Hamburg had a small rally late in the game. Senior receiver Zach Nyhart caught a 55-yard touchdown pass with a little over three minutes left in the game, but that was all the Bulldogs would get against the tough Falcons’ defense.
“Coach has really emphasized ‘tackles and turnovers’ to our defense,” said Mixon. “And that’s what we did; make tackles and turnovers. We’re not playing for just one person, we’re playing for Zig, and we’re playing for each other and for our team.”
Zig, who Mixon and Parks both mentioned is Mike Ziegler, is a former teammate who tragically passed away last March. Ziegler was a two-year varsity player for the Falcons and would’ve been a senior this year. Coach Nixon and the whole Falcons team have had Zig in their thoughts this entire season. Many of the players were Ziegler’s classmates and good friends growing up; making this great start for Niagara Wheatfield all the more special.
The Falcons will face their toughest test of the season next Friday when they make the long trip to Jamestown to face the 1-1 Red Raiders in another A-1 division matchup. Jamestown’s week three opponent is Kenmore West. That game is scheduled for Saturday, September 15th at 2 p.m.
Hamburg will be at home again in week four. The Bulldogs will look to get back to .500 when they host defending state champions West Seneca West on Friday, September 21st at 7 p.m.
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