By MATT PARRINO firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The Tonawanda football team may not have won last year’s T-NT Classic, but the Warriors sent a message to its neighbors across the river that the rivalry is back.
North Tonawanda received that message — loud and clear.
The City of Tonawanda has been abuzz all year, celebrating the inaugural season of the beautiful new Clinton Small Stadium. But after the Warriors clinched their first playoff appearance since 2004 a few weeks ago, the murmurs echoing throughout the city as to whether or not this could finally be the year Tonawanda ends the 12-game NT win streak have turned to roars.
Tonight at 6 p.m. is the 104th installment of the T-NT Classic, and both teams enter the game with three wins on the season.
The Warriors (3-3, 2-3 C North) are a confident bunch preparing for the postseason. And although the Lumberjacks (3-3, 2-3 A North) missed the playoffs again this season they’re on a two-game win streak and have one of the hottest quarterbacks in Western New York.
Junior QB Chris Woodard has been magnificent the past two weeks, scoring eight touchdowns (five passing, three rushing), and leading NT to convincing wins over Starpoint and Niagara-Wheatfield.
Tonawanda coach Rob Gross said Woodard is a playmaker with a ton of natural ability and the intelligence to go with it.
Woodard has to continue to lead the offense, which has been the most consistent unit for the Jacks all season, said NT coach Tony Truilizio.
”He’s very crisp and very cerebral as well. He’s doing both things — the passing game is there and he’s a running threat,” Truilizio said. “Obviously we do the triple (option) and it helps if there is coverage he can break it loose and get into the open field and do some things. Some of his runs have been over 50 yards, so there’s a combination there of a big threat.”
For the Warriors, their calling card this season has been a tough and physical defensive unit that has been hard to figure out by almost every opponent they faced. Against defending Class C North champion JFK in Week One, Tonawanda shut down the Bears offense and kept them off the scoreboard entirely, posting a 27-0 victory.
The Warriors’ defense against the Jacks’ high octane offense could be the pivotal matchup to watch on Friday night.
Gross said he expects another extremely competitive game, and said the most important thing for his team is to continue what’s been working all season — limiting mistakes.
”They’re a very good football team and mistake-free football is the key. You can’t make mistakes against a good football team,” Gross said. “So we have to take care of the football and not give up the big plays. They’re very good and they can run and throw the ball very well. They have a physical defense and mistake-free football is the key.”
Gross said that to win his team must execute and not give up the big play. Truilizio said it’s been tough to treat the game like any other, but the most important thing for his players is that they are focused on the task at hand and respect Tonawanda.
”We’re not walking into this game thinking we’re going to walk all over them or beat them up,” Truilizio said. “They’ve come a long way in their program and I hope there is a mutual respect there. These kids and this community know all about the T-NT game. There is some tradition and all bets are off this week.”
Truilizio said that Warriors QB Tristan Boling, RB Tim Barnard and TE Connor Pumm have his full attention. He said all three are capable of big plays and his defensive unit must make things difficult on the talented Warrior trio.
”They have a very strong offensive line. (Will Galley) is a very powerful blocker, and (Tim Barnard), if given the opportunity will break a big run. So offensively they’re very strong,” Truilizio said. “(Boling) is going to have some successful passes because they throw a good slant ball and guys run underneath the ball. The accuracy might not be quite there but given the opportunity he’s going — he’s running. He has some speed and once he’s out in open field you better get a tackle on him or else he’ll go the distance.”
Gross said Barnard is a ferocious competitor and expects all his seniors to leave everything out on the field, but to be successful in a big game like this everybody has to control their emotions.
”Our basic formula for success doesn’t change,” Gross said. “We need to take care of the football and cause turnovers, play sound defense and win the field position battle. It’s just like any other game from a scheme standpoint.”
Last year’s T-NT game was an eye-opening experience for Truilizio in his first season as NT coach, and this year will provide another as the series shifts back across the canal to George Vetter Stadium.
Truilizio is looking forward to the experience once again and is hoping for the same results.
”I know it sounds cliche but we have to make sure our defense is solid and we have a strong performance on defense to win,” he said. “It would be nice to get some special teams points or have them put us in good position. The offense is doing very well and they have to continue in that direction. I’m going to say defensively is where we have to win this game, though.”STAY UPDATED Whether at George Vetter Stadium for the 104th T-NT Classic or on your couch at home tonight, make sure to follow along with all the action with in-game updates, photos and video @tonanewssports on Twitter and on the official Tonawanda News Facebook page. Follow @tonanewssports and Sports Editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.