By MATT PARRINO
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Tonawanda took a 14-10 lead into halftime — the first time a Tonawanda team has done so since 1998. But in the second half of the 103rd T-NT game Friday night, North Tonawanda showed why they've won now 13 times in a row.
North Tonawanda's defense shut out the Warriors in the second half, and the Jacks prevailed, 17-14, in what was one of the most exciting and closely contested T-NT games in recent memory.
Lumberjacks senior wide receiver Ian Gilhousen said the victory is one he's been waiting for since he was a little boy.
"It's a great feeling," he said. "There's nothing better than coming out here with my coaches, good friends and with the whole community watching me — it's a dream come true."
The Jacks (2-5, 1-5 Class A) had two standout performances, one on each side of the ball, that helped them hold off a Warriors team that seemed determined to end their losing streak.
Sophomore running back Nehemiah Stone rushed for 127 yards on 17 carries and scored both NT touchdowns. Senior cornerback and kicker Luke Topolski had an interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery, five tackles and, just for kicks, converted on the what would be the game-winning field goal.
NT coach Tony Truilizio called the win "a great victory for the program." He said he's proud of his players and the way they've come together as a family. He knew they'd need a great effort to knock off the Warriors.
"I knew from the moment I saw (Tonawanda) on film three weeks ago that this team could put points on the board and move the ball," Truilizio said. "We were fortunate to also have an offense that can move the ball. Out of all weeks for the defense to hold up solid — the interception by Luke was great."
The Topolski interception was one of Tonawanda quarterback Clayton Hess's only mistakes in a gutsy performance. The senior threw for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns in an exciting first half.
Tonawanda (1-5, 1-5 Class B) coach Rob Gross knew Hess was "on" from the Warriors' first drive.
"I wanted to get him to keep throwing the ball," Gross said. "We were having great success and our receivers did a great job, especially Tristan (Boling) and Conner (Pumm). (NT) brought a lot of pressure and Hess still did a good job of delivering the ball. He played extremely well."
Neither team showed any signs of intimidation playing in front of thousands in attendance at what was the final T-NT game played at the historic Clint Small Stadium on Main Street in Tonawanda. After Topolski's field goal on the Jacks' opening drive, the Warriors didn't waste any time trying to test the NT defense. Hess found Boling on a 14-yard touchdown pass.
The play was immediately called a touchdown, but Boling looked to bobble the ball before dropping it out of bounds on what appeared to be a missed call.
The Jacks came right back to go ahead on Stone's first score. Then late in the second quarter, Hess gave his team the lead with his second touchdown pass, this time to senior tight end Connor Pumm — who set up the scoring play with a 42-yard catch earlier in the drive. The 6-yard score put the Warriors up 14-10 at the half.
The Jacks seemed to be on the ropes, but Truilzio was confident in his guys.
"I told them in the locker room to relax and that we were fine," Truilizio said. "I'm just generally proud of how the guys are. They kept composure throughout the entire game."
Gross was proud of his team, as well, saying each player gave everything he had.
He said the game came down to a few mistakes and a couple of breaks that didn't go Tonawanda's way.
"In any football game there are between seven to 12 plays where if three of those go a different way they can affect the outcome," Gross said. "They put the ball on the ground four times and recovered it every time. We had a fumble and an interception. We needed some breaks.
"I give NT a lot of credit for playing a great game," he continued. "They did a lot of things very well."
Boling finished with seven catches for 133 yards and Pumm had 59 yards receiving. Senior running back Tyler Hughes only managed 54 yards on 20 carries, but was a work horse for the Warriors.
Jacks quarterback Chris Woodard only threw four passes in the game.
Gross said that the game itself was exactly what it's supposed to be and everybody involved should be proud.
"That's the way a T-NT game is supposed to be, down to the end," Gross said. "To hold up our end of the rivalry, every T-NT game has to be competitive like that one. I think the Twin Cities got a great football game tonight. We all continue to be proud of this rivalry and this game."Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000, ext. 4117.