WNY Athletics

Wildcats Keep Playoff Hopes Alive With Win Over Lackawanna

It was a real dogfight Thursday night out in Depew where the Wildcats were hosting fellow B3 division opponent Lackawanna. Junior tailback Christian Pagano and senior free safety CJ Burns led Depew in a 21-0 shutout win over the Steelers to keep their postseason dreams alive.

The Wildcats strolled into Thursday night losing two of their last three division games, putting them in the tough position of having to win in order to have a chance at extending their season.

This was Depew’s second consecutive shutout victory that started with a 34-0 win over Springville in week 5. Tyler Connors (’19) who had 21 tackles heading into this game was in on 14 Thursday (5 solo). The Wildcats did not allow a completion as the Steelers quarterbacks were 0-11 in the passing game with two interceptions.

The teams played to a scoreless first half with neither offense able to cross midfield without the help of the officials’ flags. Depew kicked off in the second half and that’s where the game started to pick up some steam.

The Steelers took the second half kick 70 yards back to the Wildcats’ 18-yard line and they appeared ready to take the lead. Lackawanna drew first blood when JV call-up Darian Gray reached the end zone on a jet sweep just two minutes into the third quarter, but a holding call took the TD away and set Lackawanna back five yards. Two plays later on 4th and 20 Burns came up with the first of his two interceptions and brought the ball out to midfield on the return.

Pagano took the Wildcats into the red zone on successive runs and the drive was finished off with a 13-yard TD strike from Nathan Kulesz to Zach Tominich, both seniors. Tominich used his size to bully his way through the line and was wide open over the middle for an easy score.

The Wildcats defense appeared to be tiring in the fourth quarter as Lackawanna’s running game began to take charge. After a 10-minute drive the Steelers put the ball on the floor and Depew recovered at their 29-yard line, ending Lackawanna’s most impressive drive of the night.

Depew’s offense could not take advantage of the turnover and were forced to punt as Lackawanna’s defense stood tall. More penalties doomed Lackawanna’s next drive and eventually were forced to punt from their own 14.

Burns returned the kick to the Steeler 23, which is where Pagano took over. The younger brother of standout quarterback and baseball player Joe Pagano (’18) scored two plays later on a 15-yard run with just 4:37 to go.

Burns picked off his second pass on Lackawanna’s ensuing drive on a fourth down play once again. Pagano capped off the Wildcats drive with a 3-yard rushing touchdown. Pagano finished the game with 86 yards on 23 carries and two scores.

“I’m very happy with how well we all played today,” Pagano said after the win. “We came in knowing what we had to do. As a team we want to play hard and keep fighting for each other. That’s how we’re going to continue to play.”

The playoff picture is still a little cloudy but the Wildcats have a shot. “Overall I’m very happy with how the team played today,” head coach Mark Dirienzo said. “Our team knew we needed a win and went out and played hard and executed. It was a big win. We needed to win but we also needed to win by 20 points to break any tie-breakers we may need.”

Depew (2-2) will be watching the scoreboard the next two weeks as Olean is still in control of their destiny. The Huskies (who defeated Depew back in week 4) have two divisional games left on the schedule, tonight at Springville (0-3) and in the final game they will host Lackawanna (1-2).

Albion already took the top spot in the division leaving three teams battling for the final position. 

Depew will host Lancaster next Friday, it’ll be the 100th game in the storied rivalry.

“This week is like no other,” Burns said. “It’s always a very tough week of practice, a good week and the game will be very tough. We want to win. We need to win.”

There is nothing Depew can do but wait out the next eight days and hope. The most likely scenario is they’ll need the team they just defeated to come up big next Friday and steal a victory at Olean by more than two TD’s.

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