The last time the Lackawanna Steelers (11-0, 5-0 Class C) won a Section VI title, a good portion of the school’s freshmen were in the process of being born.
In any event, the Steelers are sectional champions for the first time since 2008 after defeating the Fredonia Hillbillies (9-2, 4-2 Class C) 22-20 on Thursday night at Highmark Stadium. It’s also the 10th
Section VI crown in school annals.
“For us to have a title back – it means everything,” coach Adam Tardiff said. “It started back in the ‘60s with Gordy Bukaty – who’s going in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. In the ‘90s we won two state titles and lost two others ones, and we won sectionals in 2005, ’06 and ’08. We kind of took a nosedive for a long time, so it really means a lot to us.
“It means a lot to me too because I’ve been with the program for 25 years. We’ve got the best coaching staff in Western New York – these guys worked their butts off – and we’ve got a really good group of
seniors who have worked really hard to get here. It’s really a special moment for everybody.”
Senior quarterback William Gechell agreed, saying he came to the realization in the offseason that this group had what it took to win at Highmark Stadium.
“I knew over the summer that this group could do it,” Gechell said. “I saw a lot of effort from the guys coming in and really putting that (work) in to get better and stronger. All that work really helped us tonight.”
After a first quarter that saw a defensive struggle take place, a 27-yard touchdown pass to the corner of the end zone from Gechell to Ashlin Alexander-Hall put Lackawanna on the board 8-0 midway through
the second quarter after a two-point conversion. Fredonia’s Ethan Fry and Jameson Quinn then hooked up for an 80-yard scoring strike on a rainbow pass down the sideline a few minutes later, and the battle was on.
A botched 29-yard field goal by the Hillbillies then led to the Steelers answering back with a 75-yard touchdown run by Threeths to increase their lead to 14-6 at the half. Yet that was only the beginning of the drama.
A few minutes into the third quarter, a scramble drill worked to perfection as Gechell rolled out to his left and found Shyheim Smalls in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. Fredonia, however, answered right back with a scoring drive of their own when Fry found paydirt on an eight-yard quarterback keeper – cutting the score to 22-14.
Keegan Whitfield’s interception gave Fredonia great field position, but a blocked 23-yard field goal denied the Hillbillies a chance to decrease the lead to five. Two consecutive quarterback sneaks by each team – one stopped, another that led to a fumble recovery by Fredonia – set up the next play, a long completion down the field from Fry to Brandon Wronski.
Following a pass interference call against Lackawanna, Jay Hawk hauled in a seven-yard throw into the corner of the end zone by Fry to make it 22-20. On the ensuing drive, the Hillbillies stopped the Steelers and got the ball back but after a false start penalty on fourth down, Fry’s pass was intercepted by Smalls
near the end zone to seal the win for Lackawanna.
“Smalls has been with our program for four years. I love that kid,” Tardiff said. “He’s a gamer and a leader of our defense. That interception couldn’t have happened to a better player and a better person.”
“We talked about going 3-0 locally to win a sectional title, but after the sectional title we’ve got to go 3-0 again to win a state title. You need a little bit of talent, a little bit of luck and you’ve got to have a good group of leaders. And I think the leaders that we have are the kids that could do this.”
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