Tonawanda News — After 24 minutes in the 104th annual T-NT Classic, Tonawanda and North Tonawanda were in a close game for the second straight season. Both teams made big plays in the first half, and the back and forth contest seemed destined for a memorable finish.
But the Lumberjacks scored 27 points in the second half and finished the game with over 400 yards rushing en route to a 45-21 win over Tonawanda, extending their win streak to 13 games.
Jacks senior running back Christian Mahoe finished with 151 yards rushing and two touchdowns, junior Nehemiah Stone had 116 yards rushing, 45 receiving and three touchdowns (two rushing), junior Tyjier Brandy had 56 yards and senior Jon Zellner chipped in with 46. Every NT ball carrier found some running room Friday night.
NT coach Tony Truilzio was proud of his team's effort, especially on offense and in the run game.
"You start with the seniors — Christian had an absolutely amazing game and you could tell he came to play," Truilzio said. "You go down the line and the offensive line came in and did just a stellar job. We knew basically what we could do and not do against them, and it's not taking anything away to them, but our game plan was solid."
Mahoe totaled over 100 yards in the first half and after leaving the game briefly due to injury, returned to help the Jacks keep up the pressure on the ground.
NT looked in control from the start of the game, when it was threatening deep in THS territory on the opening drive. But after the Jacks marched all the way down inside the Tonawanda 20, Warriors defensive back Brandon Frye jumped a crossing route near his own end zone and intercepted a NT QB Chris Woodard pass. He took it 87 yards for a score to give Tonawanda the first lead of the game, sending a jolt of fear into the NT contingent in the stands and on the sidelines.
The interception was Woodard's only mistake on the day — he finished with 135 yards through the air and a pair of touchdown passes. After the miscue he made sure to stay calm.
"When it first happened I really didn't know what was going on. I got hit on the follow through and saw the kid coming, and when he scored my heart sank a little bit," Woodard said. "But I put it out of my mind and told myself that we weren't losing that game."
The Jacks took the lead for the first time in the second quarter on Stone's first touchdown run. He took a handoff and outran three Tonawanda defenders, bursting to the outside and scooted into the end zone. But the Warriors came right back to retake the lead when QB Tristan Boling, who finished with 317 all-purpose yards, including 197 through the air to go with a pair of touchdowns, found Frye in the middle of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown pass. Frye made his first reception of the day earlier on the drive in between two NT defensive backs and took a big hit but held onto the ball to keep the drive alive.
NT took back the lead before halftime on Mahoe's first touchdown run after recording a safety when a botched snap forced Tonawanda's Tim Barnard to field a low ball from his knee in his own end zone.
The Jacks led 18-13 at the half and Tonawanda received the ball in the third quarter. The Warriors were forced to punt on their first possession and NT capitalized when Stone scored his second rushing touchdown of the game, showing his burst as he got to the outside once again and then finished the run by driving through a couple would-be Tonawanda tacklers to cross the goal line.
Stone scored the Jacks' winning touchdown in last season's T-NT game and knew he would have to take over again this year if the Jacks were going to win. He told his coach at halftime that he wanted the ball even more.
"In the locker room I said, 'Coach, I want the ball. Let's do this, let's score.' I knew the team was going to come together and I knew we were going to do it," he said. "That's exactly what we did. We knew we were better, nothing against them, we just work hard and good results showed."
But the game wasn't clinched at that point. The Warriors, having no success stopping the NT run attack, responded with a rushing touchdown of their own when Boling ran one in from 10 yards out. He then found his favorite target, tight end Connor Pumm, for the two-point conversion to bring the Warriors to within a field goal at 24-21.
"In the middle of the third quarter we're down a field goal and we're competing, and our guys are right there doing everything we ask them to do," said Tonawanda coach Rob Gross. "It's a three-point game in the middle of the third quarter and it got away from us."
The Jacks scored again on the next drive when Mahoe ran for his second of the day. In the fourth quarter the Jacks added two more touchdowns when Woodard found Stone and senior Jake Ferry, who finished with 80 yards receiving.
Gross said it was a complete offensive effort by NT down the stretch.
"I think the offensive line for NT controlled the line of scrimmage," he said. "Their scheme requires the back to be good blockers too, and they did their part. It was a situation where there offense dictated the tempo at the end of the third quarter and in the fourth quarter."
For the Warriors, Pumm finished with five catches for 73 yards and eight tackles, and Barnard had 11 tackles on the day.
The Warriors continue to show their character by the way they play, Gross said.
"We did a lot of things well during the night and we have so many guys that are going both ways. The fact that they have done this for seven nights now and give a full effort and competing every snap. They're awesome," Gross said. "That's the character of our guys."Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.