By Matt Parrino
Niagara Gazette —
After two quarters of play Friday night at Clinton Small Stadium, Tonawanda football coach Rob Gross knew his big playmaker wasn't getting enough touches.
So he told quarterback Tristan Boling that he needed to take over in the second half, and the junior dual threat QB listened.
"When we met at halftime we knew Tristan didn't have enough touches to that point. We needed him to take over the game and he did that in the second half," Gross said. "He's done a great job of maintaining his composure when things aren't going well and being a leader in the locker room and on the field. When it's time to make a play he does that."
Boling finished with 127 yards passing, two touchdowns and made a number of big plays en route to a 28-14 win over Wilson, arguably none more impressive than a 75-yard touchdown pass to Corbin Snyder in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
"We knew our reads and Corbin just beat the defensive back, and I just made the throw," Boling said about the long TD pass. "I'm feeling real good. We put in a lot of work and we got the win."
The victory moves the Warriors one step closer to their first playoff berth since 2004. Unofficially, a JFK loss today clinches a THS playoff spot.
The win also came on a very special night for the entire Tonawanda football program. The 1963 undefeated team was on hand and was honored before the game with a short ceremony.
Gross said the Warriors wanted to make the '63 squad proud.
"We had some of the legends that played football at this school watching us tonight, including coach Chuck Ramsey who coached my father and myself," Gross said. "The guys wanted to make them proud and show them what we're about."
The Warriors struck first early in the first quarter when Boling found his favorite target, tight end Connor Pumm on a 26-yard connection. Pumm, who finished with 49 yards receiving, caught the ball at about the 10-yard line and bulled through a Wilson safety, taking him along for the ride into the end zone.
Tonawanda took a 13-0 lead when Tim Barnard ran one in from 20 yards out early in the second quarter. Barnard continued to dominate on both sides of the ball for the Warriors, finishing with 151 yards on 21 carries, 14 total tackles and an interception.
Growing up Barnard earned the nickname "T-Bone" because of his penchant for big hits, but Gross calls Barnard something else.
"He's not the 'T-Bone.' He's the backbone. Whatever we need him to do he does it," Gross said. "He'll never ask about his stats, he never wants to know how many tackles or yards he had, he just wants to win. Unbelievable drive and desire to be successful, and a great role model for the rest of our team."
Wilson responded before halftime to make the score 13-7 at the break.
In the second half in a one possession game, the Warriors executed on the ground. Boling, who ran for 90 yards on the day, broke a couple long runs to get the Tonawanda offense moving back in the right direction. Barnard punched one in from 8 yards out for his second rushing TD on the game. The Warriors went up 21-7 after Boling found Pumm again, this time for a two-point conversion.
Wilson responded in the fourth quarter with a rushing TD by Hunter Howland, bringing the Lakemen within a TD at 21-14. That's when Gross turned to his team and emplored his players to keep fighting.
After a three and out by the Warriors, Wilson made a costly mistake that gave Tonawanda its chance to close out the win. On a 4th down deep in their own zone, the Warriors were punting to the Lakemen when Howling ran Barnard over near the end zone. Wilson was flagged for roughing the kicker and Tonawanda received a new set of downs.
Three plays later Boling unleashed his bomb to Snyder and the Warriors cruised to victory.
Former Warriors QB Rick Cassata was one of the members of the '63 team that was on hand Friday night to take part in the celebration. He marveled at the new stadium, looking around the field and remembering the days he used to walk through the same stretch of land from his home two blocks away to the school.
As far as his '63 Warriors, he said they were a pretty darn good football team.
"We lost one game in four years and the one thing I remember about my senior year was that we punted less than any team in the whole country," Cassata said. "In eight games we punted four times — that ain't bad. We had a bunch of tough guys and a lot of good athletes on that team."
Cassata was thankful and appreciative to the Tonawanda community for its support and dedication to THS football.
"Fifty years later I can't believe I'm alive first of all," Cassata said laughing. "Secondly I got to see some old coaches and teammates, and I have my grandkids here. It's very special and it will last a long time for me. It'll go good with my cold beer tonight."Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.