When the going got tough, Orchard Park got going.
Down two scores and missing their best defensive player, the Quakers found a way. OP forced four second-half turnovers and rallied for a 21-20 win over three-time defending Section VI champion Lancaster on Friday night at a packed Foyle-Kling Field.
“It’s a big win for us,” Quakers coach Chuck Senn said. “They’ve been the main supreme for the last three years winning division titles. Coming in here into a hostile environment, coming in here fighting for a division title, I couldn’t be happier with their effort and the outcome of the game, I’m so proud of the 53 that were here.”
With the win, Orchard Park claims at least a share of the Class AA championship and can claim it outright with a win next week at Jamestown. The loss for the Legends was the first at home since Oct. 9, 2015 (42-17 vs. the Quakers).
OP also snapped a four-game losing streak against Lancaster.
“It was unbelievable,” said Quakers quarterback Jack Sharp, who ran for two scores. “It was an unbelievable atmosphere, back and forth … this is what you sign up to play football for, those kind of games.”
As it turned out, the stop and score came on the same game-changing play. Senior defensive end Tyler Pirritano picked off a deflected pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown that got the Quakers right back into the game.
“No. 50, my friend, Ayden Haley, tipped it and just pick it off and took it to the house,” Pirritano said. “Nothing was going through my mind, it was just crazy. It just popped into my hands and I took it.”
Orchard Park followed that with a three-and-out and then Sharp led the Quakers down the field. Lancaster temporarily killed the drive when Anthony Santos-Larosa picked off a Sharp pass but he was stripped of the ball by OP’s Tristan Lancaster at the Legends 19. Shortly after, Sharp scored from five yards out and Tom Hollander drilled the decisive extra point.
Lancaster marched down the field on its next drive but Haley forced a fumble and Chad Gloss recovered at the 5. Lancaster’s final legitimate drive ended on an interception by Kross Rapini at the OP 30.
“It’s tough to beat anybody when you turn the ball over four times, let alone a top team in Orchard Park,” Lancaster coach Eric Rupp said.
The Legends had one last desperation attempt from their own 17-yard line with 10 seconds to play. A lateral play was stopped and the OP sideline erupted onto the field … but was sent off. An inadvertent whistle had the ball dead and gave the Legends one more try. The second lateral play lasted a while and got close to the 40 but the Quakers held on.
“They said he blew the whistle so the play was dead when he threw the ball from the end zone forward,” Senn said. “So in high school it’s an untimed down. It’s kind of crazy.”
The Quakers did most of it without standout wide receiver and linebacker Mike Pataky – who Senn called “the quarterback of our defense” – was injured on OP’s first offensive series.
“He seems fine now but you never know with Mike,” Senn said. “He’s a true linebacker. He wanted to go back in but the doc said no.”
Lancaster opened the scoring on a 13-yard TD connection from Jason Mansell to Gianluca Fulciniti but the Legends missed the extra point. Sharp led the Quakers down the field late in the first quarter and on the first play of the second, he snuck it in himself from 3 yards out.
Lancaster countered with a pair of big plays, first a 43-yard TD connection from Mansell to Nick Castellana and then a 45-yard touchdown run by Cody Phillips for a 20-7 halftime lead.
“Lancaster’s a really tough,” Sharp said, “but we were just saying, ‘Don’t back down, don’t put your heads down.’ We just had to get one score, one stop and we’ll be fine.”
The Legends dropped to 4-2 overall and in Class AA with just their sixth loss since the start of the 2016 season. Lancaster, with a point differential of plus-63, is still in line to get the No. 2 seed – and two home playoff games – if Orchard Park beats Jamestown next week.
“I told the kids, we’re two points away from being undefeated,” Rupp said. “Once playoffs are rolling on all cylinders I still like our chances against anybody. It’s alright, I like being the underdog tonight. They were the better team tonight so they deserve the higher seed.”