It’s been roughly 17 months since the last postseason high school football game in Western New York; but after a fast-paced, action-packed, five-week regular season, Section VI playoff football is set to make its return.
The 2021 spring season (officially known as 2020 Fall II) limited teams to just a five-game regular season schedule – at least before many programs dealt with COVID pauses and game cancellations – and the playoffs will be shorter than in a typical fall season as well. The upcoming postseason will be just two weeks, with the semifinal games being played on Friday, May 7 through Sunday, May 9, and the finals taking place the following weekend.
The semifinal round will feature 10 games over the three-day stretch, with eight being played on Friday night.
(1) Lancaster vs. (4) Bennett
The top-seeded, 5-0 Lancaster Legends are slated to begin their quest for a fifth-consecutive sectional championship against No. 4 seed Bennett (3-2), a team the former defeated back in Week 1, 34-8. That season opening win for the Legends came on the road at All High Stadium, but this time around they’ll have the luxury of playing host to the Tigers.
Lancaster’s offense, led by senior quarterback and three-year starter Jason Mansell, scored 34 points or more in each of the five regular season games, including a season-high 51 against Will North in Week 3. Mansell has thrown for nearly 850 yards and nine touchdowns already this spring, but the Legends’ biggest weapon on offense may be running back Cody Phillips, a senior who ran for 559 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season. Lancaster’s defense has also been strong, allowing an average of just 10.2 points against per game. But, the Legends allowed a season-high 20 points last week in the victory over Frontier.
Bennett had a three-game win-streak snapped in its regular season finale against Orchard Park, a 14-6 loss at home. The Tigers have scored 30-plus points in each of their three wins this season, but have failed to put up double digits in the pair of losses. Sophomore quarterback Antonio Davis III will be heading into a tough environment against a tough Lancaster team that boasts a lot of recent success, but Bennett has the speed, strength, and talent to hang with the Legends. However, Bennett will absolutely have to play its best game to come out with a victory.
Opening kickoff at Lancaster is scheduled for 7pm on Friday night.
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(2) Orchard Park vs. (3) Clarence
The No. 2 seed Orchard Park Quakers also enter the postseason with a 5-0 record, and will host No. 3 seed Clarence (3-2) in the second Class AA semifinal matchup. The Red Devils have already traveled to Orchard Park once this year, falling to the Quakers on the road in Week 2, 21-0.
Sophomore Ben Gocella, Orchard Park’s starting quarterback, threw for 162 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Week 2 victory over Clarence. Gocella has had a strong campaign overall, totaling 699 passing yards and throwing 11 touchdowns so far this season. The Orchard Park defense, of course, shut out Clarence in early April, and hasn’t allowed much from any opponent all season. The Quakers have given up just 28 total points this spring, which averages out to less than a touchdown per game (5.6 points).
Clarence has had a streaky spring, going win-loss-win-loss-win, through the regular season. The Red Devils signature victory came in Week 3, a 21-12 win over Frontier. Junior quarterback Garrett White has thrown for 360 yards and six touchdowns through five games, but Clarence’s biggest strength seems to be its run game. Senior running back Zach Norton leads the Red Devils with 572 rushing yards and is tied with junior Scott Raymond for a team-best three rushing touchdowns.
Opening kickoff at Orchard Park is scheduled for 7pm on Friday night.
(A1 No. 1) Jamestown vs. (A2 No. 2) Williamsville South
Jamestown, the top team from A1, cruised through the regular season, finishing 5-0 and at the top of its division, earning a home playoff game. The Red Raiders will host Williamsville South, another 5-0 team that similar to Jamestown, boasts a lot of speed.
Friday night’s clash could very well be a track meet, shoot-out-type of contest. Jamestown scored 42 points or more in four of its five regular season games, with the lowest total being 33 against Kenmore West in Week 3, a game the Red Raiders still won by 21 points. The high-powered, fast-paced Jamestown offense is led by sophomore quarterback Trey Drake, junior running back Jaylen Butera, and senior wide receiver Elijah Rojas. Along with the aforementioned trio, the Red Raiders roster contains a lot more talent and speed. On the defensive side, Jamestown has been just as impressive, giving up just 38 points in five games so far this season, and allowing an opponent to reach double digits on the scoreboard just once.
Williamsville South has shown this season its no stranger to scoring a lot of points in a single game. The Billies have scored 35 points or more in every game this season, and have put up 50-plus in each of their last two games, scoring 52 at Sweet Home, followed by a season-high 56 against Kenmore East. Junior Christian Dewer and senior John Maher, both running backs, may be relied upon more than usual to help Will South win the possession game and keep Jamestown’s offense off the field. However, the Billies are accustomed to playing at a high-tempo, and sticking with what’s worked so far this spring could be what’s best for the underdog. Traveling to Jamestown for a road game is never easy, but when you add that it’s the playoffs on top of that, it’s a recipe for a rowdy environment Friday night.
Opening kickoff at Jamestown is scheduled for 7pm.
(A2 No. 1) South Park vs. (A1 No. 2) Grand Island
South Park defeated Sweet Home in its final regular season game last Saturday to improve to 4-0 and clinch the top seed from the A2 division, despite the Sparks never having their canceled game at Amherst rescheduled. The defending Section VI Class A Champions will host Grand Island (4-1), the No. 2 seed from A1, Friday night at All High Stadium.
Like many recent South Park teams, the Sparks boast a ton of speed, athleticism and toughness. The running back duo of Keith Jackson and Parrell Fulgham could challenge any other backfield pairing as the best in Western New York. Jackson and Fulgham combined for six rushing touchdowns against Sweet Home in the regular season finale, scoring three apiece. The Sparks will be without their starting quarterback, senior Mykell Hepburn, a dual-threat play caller who’s dealing with a season-ending wrist injury. However, junior Mike Pajak filled in nicely against Sweet Home, as the Sparks scored a season-high 54 points, albeit South Park’s eight scores all came via the run.
Grand Island enters the playoffs on a three-game win streak. After getting blown out by Jamestown at home in Week 2, the Vikings have found their stride, rattling off three consecutive wins, with the most recent being a 42-0 victory over Niagara Wheatfield. Grand Island’s defense has been lights out since the loss to Jamestown, allowing just six points against Hamburg the next game, and again against West Seneca East the following week. Over its last three contests, Grand Island is allowing just four points per game, while averaging 30 per game on the offensive side.
Opening kickoff at All High Stadium is scheduled for 7pm Friday night.
(B1 No. 1) Iroquois vs. (B2 No. 2) Olean
Due to COVID pauses and eventual cancellations, Iroquois was only able to play three regular season games. However, in the trio of contests the Chiefs did play, Iroquois dominated the competition, winning all three games, and out-scoring its opponents 111-6. The undefeated Chiefs, the No. 1 seed from the B1 division, will host the second place team from B2, the Olean Huskies (4-1).
Iroquois quarterback Trey Kleitz has put up incredible numbers in limited action this spring. In just three games, the junior threw for 703 yards and 10 touchdowns, while also running for 50 yards on 10 carries. Kleitz has completed a pass to six different receivers this season, but the two leading pass catchers are seniors Tyler Barry and Noah Kedge. Barry leads the Chiefs in receptions (19) and yards (336), and has caught four touchdowns. Kedge has caught a team-high five touchdowns this season, and has reeled-in a total of nine receptions for 207 yards. The Chiefs also have a strong run game as well, led by senior Blake Nolan, who’s racked up 331 yards on the ground and ran for three touchdowns. Iroquois hasn’t played a game since April 23, but the Chiefs scored 68 in that contest against Lewiston Porter. In the two games prior to Lew Port, Iroquois shutout both West Seneca East and Cheektowaga.
So, it’s safe to say that despite being limited to just three games, and not having played in two weeks by the time Friday comes, Iroquois is still the real deal, and has as good a shot as any team to be crowned Class B champions.
Olean enters the postseason on a four-game win-streak and is coming off of a 20-point win over Maryvale in the regular season finale. After being shutout by WNYMCS/HS in Week 1 and scoring just 14 points in a six-point win over Dunkirk the following game, the Huskies offense has put up at least 26 points in each of its last three contests. Quarterback Riley Silvis has been a dual-threat weapon this spring for Olean. The junior threw for 534 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season, while also rushing for 248 yards and six scores – both team-highs. Senior Jason Brooks has been one of the Huskies’ top pass-catchers, registering a team-high four reception touchdowns and 172 yards. Senior Nick Pantuso leads the team with nine catches, and fellow senior Jason Copella has a pair of reception scores this season. Three of Olean’s wins this season have been decided by six points or less, and with Iroquois boasting a high-scoring offense and a lockdown defense, another tight contest is likely in the Huskies’ future.
Opening kickoff at Iroquois is scheduled for 7pm Friday night.
(B2 No. 1) WNYMCS/HS vs. (B1 No. 2) West Seneca East
WNYMCS/HS (Maritime/Health Sciences), the defending Class B sectional champions, finished at the top of the B2 division this spring with a 3-0 in-league record, and hold a 3-1 tally overall. The Falcons will host West Seneca East (2-3 overall), who despite having a 1-2 record in league play, was able to get the No. 2 seed from the B1 division after Pioneer and Cheektowaga both had their respective postseason hopes erased due to having to go on COVID pause.
Maritime/Health Sciences has yet to let up a point this season against in-league opponents. The Falcons out-scored the opposition 100-0 in their three regular season wins, putting up 50 alone against Maryvale. Maritime/Health Sciences returns a ton of talent from its sectional championship team from 2019, including senior quarterback Jion Washington, senior running back/linebacker Mekhi Bridgers, and senior running back/defensive end Maurice Vaughn. The Falcons’ biggest weapon, however, is junior Addison Copeland, who may be one of the best athletes and most explosive players in all of Western New York. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver starts on both sides of the ball and returns kicks and punts. He can break off for a touchdown any time he gets the ball, and can also lock down a team’s No. 1 wide receiver.
West Seneca East will be playing its first game in almost two weeks Friday night. The Trojans last played on Saturday, April 24, in a non-league contest against Grand Island, and lost 28-6. It’s hard to gauge where West Seneca East would fall in B1 if it was a “normal” season. The Trojans played just three league games, losing to Iroquois and Pioneer – the top two teams in the B1 standings – and then blowing out East Aurora/Holland, 55-0. In two non-league games against Grand Island and Williamsville East, the Trojans went 1-1. West Seneca East is a run-oriented team on offense, and the Trojans offensive line will have to win the battle in the trenches if they want to get past Maritime/Health Sciences. West Seneca East will need to keep the Falcons offense off the field for as much time as possible.
Opening kickoff at John B. Wiley is scheduled for 6pm Friday night.
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Section VI – Class C, D and the MMAA Playoff Previews to be released Friday.