Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda and Kenmore East played one of the most entertaining A North divisional games of the 2012 season and both teams are looking to duplicate that effort this afternoon.
This time, the Lumberjacks (1-1, 0-1 A Division) travel to Parker Field to play the Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 A Division) in a critical early season league matchup. Both coaches know what’s on the line, and for the Jacks their playoff hopes may be in jeopardy if they can’t pull out a win.
”We’re still trying to learn how to win. We have to start winning the close games,” said NT coach Tony Truilizio. “It could go either way this week. We could be right there in the playoff mix or we can be right out of it. I truly feel that the third game of the season determines what type of team you’re going to have.”
NT will again be without junior standouts Nehemiah Stone and Taylor Mellott, as both players continue to rehab injuries. With Stone out again, NT quarterback Chris Woodard will have to pick up the slack, along with seniors Jon Zellner (RB) and Jake Ferry (WR).
Bulldogs coach Matt Chimera said Woodard is very talented and has his defense’s full attention.
”They’ve got a very good quarterback. That’s a guy we’re really going to have to focus on,” he said. “They have some other weapons too, but you’ve got to take away their biggest gun first. We’ll focus on that, and make them beat us in other ways.”
On the Ken-East side, senior QB Connor McMahon is having another outstanding season. Truilizio said the Jacks will have to contain McMahon and senior RB Preston Smith, who ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns against Starpoint last week, if they hope to be successful.
”They have McMahon and Smith who are two huge players for them. They’re the real deal,” Truilizio said. “They are two very respectable playmakers. They have a couple other ‘role players’ but they are coming up big and making some big plays. They don’t have just two or three players.”
Both teams have been solid on defense so far. The Bulldogs have only surrendered seven points in two games, and the Jacks held Grand Island to 20 points in a close six-point defeat in Week Two.
Despite the close final score, Truilizio said neither he nor his team were happy with the way it played against the Vikings, and he’s looking for the Jacks to put together a more complete full-game effort today.
”We’re becoming a second half program, and we won one game and loss one because of that. We have to play the whole game,” Truilizio said. “If these guys come out from beginning to end and play a full game, we’ll be a very strong team. But we’re not there yet.
”It’s all in their heads; they’re nervous. For two years they haven’t had a successful program, and until they believe they can win every game that’s what it’s going to be.”
Chimera said his team made progress last week in its 22-0 shutout of Starpoint, but he still is looking for more improvement.
“(Starpoint) got more yards than they should have on certain plays because of a couple of missed tackles, so we’ve got to get better at that,” he said. “We turned the ball over a couple of times, we’ve got to eliminate those, and just execute offensively. For this time of year, that’s probably where you need the biggest improvement is in execution. It’s getting better day by day, but we need to keep working hard at it.”
Truilizio said his team isn’t taking Ken-East lightly. He expects another tough, physical game against the Bulldogs.
”They have a lot of momentum going their way and we’re coming off a loss. We’ve yet to prove ourselves,” he said. “On paper they’re the better team and we’re going to treat them that way — respect them for being 2-0 right now. Hopefully we can come out with the win at the end of the week.”
Tonawanda at Newfane, 2 p.m.
The Warriors (1-1, 1-1 C Division) may have split their first two games, but Tonawanda coach Rob Gross said his team has played great football for eight quarters this season.
If not for a few mistakes against Lackawanna, THS might be undefeated. But the Warriors have moved on from last week’s loss and have put in a strong week of practice.
Gross said it’s about basic football when his team battles division foe Newfane (1-1, 1-1 C Division) this afternoon at 2 p.m. on the road.
”We have to take care of the football and win the turnover battle. It’s basic football,” he said. “It doesn’t sound glamourous but we need to take care of the ball and execute our assignments — block the guys we’re supposed to block and make good tackles like we did last week.”
The Tonawanda players remained positive this week and Gross said it’s because of the high character throughout the team.
“They know we have goals to achieve and one setback doesn’t have to ruin our goals,” he said. “They’re very upbeat and still believe in themselves.”
For the Warriors to be successful today, Gross said they have to be prepared to be more physical than Newfane.
”Newfane is a physical team. They had a very strong game against Lackawanna,” he said. “The final score was not indicative of how the game went. Newfane was right there. They have skill players, they’re big up front and we know they will play physical.”
O’Hara at St. Joe’s, 2:30 p.m.
With early season losses by Canisius and Orchard Park, St. Joe’s, with wins over New York City powerhouse St. Anthony’s and Clarence, looks to be the top team in Western New York early on.
But the Marauders (2-0) aren’t taking crosstown rival Cardinal O’Hara (1-0) lightly.
St. Joe’s coach Dennis Gilbert said his team is excited to play the Hawks this afternoon in its league opener.
”Our kids are excited. They have a bunch of kids from Kenmore and Tonawanda, and we’ll know a lot of the kids we’re playing against,” he said. “It’s one of those games where the kids get a chance to play against their buddies. It’s the opener for our league season and the kids are excited. They’re ready to go.”
The Marauders’ team speed is the focus for every team that lines up against them. O’Hara coach Angelo Sciandra knows that to beat them the Hawks will have to slow them down.
”They’re very, very fast. That’s a fast, fast football team,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of speed. I’m not saying we’re slow, but we don’t have that kind of speed. Their speed is scary. (Nigel) Davis is the real deal. He’s one of the best players in the area and Rod Payne is also one of the best players in the area, without a doubt. Both of those kids are outstanding football players.”
Gilbert said O’Hara, who knocked off Nichols in Week One, will try to slow the game down to offset the speed advantage.
”I think offensively they’re going to try and slow the game down and try to control the ball,” he said. “They have to be concerned with our speed — getting to the edges and being able to turn the corner. We’ll be ready for that. It’s kids coming out to play football just like we are.”
Sciandra said that St. Joe’s does a nice job of spreading out the defense when they have the ball. He said the way they dominated Clarence was “scary.”
To contain Davis and Payne, the Hawks have to be disciplined for four quarters.
“Right now, we’re not very disciplined, hopefully we become better at that,” Sciandra said. “You have to do your job and control your gap. If you do that, you have a chance. That still doesn’t mean you’re going to get Davis down on the ground. You saw him, he breaks a lot of tackles. He’s not an easy guy to tackle. Neither is Payne. That’s a hell of a club that Gilbert’s got this year.”WANT MORE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL? Turn to Page 2B for complete previews of Tonawanda at Newfane and O'Hara at St. Joe's. Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.