By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News —
It's the dawn of a new era for Tonawanda football today; the new Clinton H. Small Stadium is ready and will be the site of the Warriors' home opener tonight at 7:30 p.m.
The excitement is coursing through the city, as many members of the community and "The Tribe" have waited anxiously for this day for months — some even years. Considering how dominant the Warriors were last week against JFK in a 27-0 shutout, the home team and its fans have plenty to be excited about.
"We are very excited. We had a great week of practice and one of the things we've learned is, that in football, you need to have a short memory," said Warriors coach Rob Gross. "Whether that's week to week, or play to play, we can build off last Saturday's effort, but we have to focus now on (today). We still need to execute (today) like it's the first game of the season."
It's got that first game sort of feel, even if Tonawanda comes in sporting a perfect 1-0 record. From the pre-game ceremony to the post-game handshake, every moment Friday night will be remembered.
The importance of this game is not lost on the Lackawanna Steelers, who also won big in Week One, knocking off Newfane, 38-18.
Steelers coach Adam Tardif said his team is amped up to play on the beautiful new field at Tonawanda.
"The kids are excited to play in a brand new stadium," he said. "I know one of our assistant coaches, his wife was the architect that worked on it, so she told us how nice it's going to be. They're excited to play Tonawanda (tonight)."
Gross said the Steelers are a very athletic team that is able to do a little bit of everything. They have a good mix of size and speed and they're dangerous because of their aggressive style of play.
Lackawanna has the ability to make big plays, and Gross said it will take focus and execution to outlast the Steelers.
"I think it comes down to basic football: don't turn the ball over and don't give up the big play," he said. "I think if we do those things and we execute on a consistent basis — those things need to be the focus. We have to win the turnover margin and stay focused."
Seniors Dylan Gregoire (QB) and Cameron Smith (RB) are the team leaders and playmakers for the Steelers. Tardif said that Smith, who scored three touchdowns against Newfane last week, is a threat to score every time he touches the ball because of his speed, elusiveness and crafty run style.
Tardif was impressed with Tonawanda's offense when he watched the JFK film. He said he saw QB Tristan Boling up close last season when he caught six passes at wide receiver. He knows his defense will have to keep tabs on the junior signal caller who is a dual threat through the air and on the ground.
"Tonawanda has a great football team. They have a big offensive line and a three-year starter at left tackle in (Will) Galley," he said. "They're a big football team. They have a great running back (Tim Barnard, who rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns against JFK) and quarterback this year. They're going to be real competitive and it's going to be tough to stop their running game. We're going to be focused on the defensive side of the ball to try and slow down (Boling)."
Heading into the season the inexperience at quarterback for the Warriors seemed to be a concern, but Gross said he never doubted Boling for a second. He knew how special he was from the first day he walked on to the practice field as a sophomore.
"He wasn't a question mark for me," Gross said. "I knew he'd be a great leader and quarterback as a junior. It was just a matter of getting him real game experience at the position. Luckily he is a guy that has been put in pressure situations on the football field and in basketball. His confidence allows him to be a few steps ahead of where other first-year varsity quarterbacks would be."
The pre-game ceremony begins at 6:51 p.m. The families of the first four men inducted into the Tonawanda Athletic Wall of Fame will be present and honored along with Hap Holway, who was the fifth inductee. Holway will perform the honorary coin toss. The UB Marching Band will perform at halftime.Find @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.