As the Cheektowaga High School football team jubilantly raced towards the stands, Warriors’ coach Mike Fatta stopped quarterback Keshone Beal, had a quick word, and handed him a game ball.
“He said: ‘Just keep it. You deserve it,” the standout senior said with a proud smile.
For the second straight season, Beal led Cheektowaga to a Section VI championship. His touchdown and two-point conversion with 10:56 left put his team ahead for good as Cheektowaga knocked off top-seed Pioneer, 14-7, on Friday in the Class B title game at New Era Field.
“He’s the dude,” Fatta said with a smile.
The championship is Cheektowaga’s fourth in five years. It was also the most surprising. As the No. 4 seed, the Warriors were an underdog against the top-seeded Panthers, who won 33-14 in Cheektowaga in September.
“It feels real good,” Cheektowaga running back Rayshawn Miller said. “There’s been a lot of talking on Twitter but we just stay humble and let it be.”
In the first meeting, Pioneer’s bruising running back Mike Rigerman ran over the Warriors to the tune of 227 yards and four touchdowns. He was held to 37 yards on 17 carries against Cheektowaga on Friday.
“No. 35 is a special player,” Cheektowaga coach Mike Fatta said, referencing Rigerman’s uniform number. We felt like we could keep him under wraps.”
After a three-quarter defensive slugfest saw Pioneer with a 7-0 lead, Beal and friends went to work in the fourth. The second-year starter finally got his team on the board with 6:52 left to close within 7-6.
Cheektowaga – which won last year’s sectional title game when rival Maryvale went for two and failed – decided to go for two and the lead here. The gutsy call paid off as Beal ran it in for the 8-7 lead.
“I liked it,” Beal said.” I liked it because we got it. Before I was like, ‘Aaah …’ but we got it and I’m happy about that.”
Photo by Josh Pohlman
An interception by Isaiah Sharpe set up another chance for the Warriors and Rayshawn Miller took advantage with a 15-yard TD run on fourth down with 3:32 left. A fumble recovery by Quran Trotter sealed the deal with 2:15 left.
“They’re the No. 1 team and it feels good,” Fatta said. “We’ve been the No. 1 team here before and it feels a little different being the underdog.”
Brian Wittmeyer’s 25-yard TD reception from Nick Rinker with 47 seconds left gave Pioneer a 7-0 lead and was the lone offense of the opening half; it was set up by a big defensive play: Smith forced a Beal fumble and Donte Berdon recovered at the Cheektowaga 15.
“The kids never stopped believing,” Fatta said. “The halftime environment was a positive one and truly, they gutted it out.”
The Class B Far West Regionals will be played at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday November 10th at Clarence High School. The Warriors will play the winner of Batavia and Wayne; the Section V Title Game is scheduled for 8pm tomorrow at St. John Fisher.
Photo by Josh Pohlman
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