Weekly Feature

2018-11-08 / Sports


Central gridders’ defense silences WNY’s top threat in Fed ‘B’ final

Cheektowaga’s Caleb Graves forces a fumble by Pioneer’s John Oun as one of the standout defensive plays that helped the Warriors top the Panthers, 14-7, in the Federation Class B title game Friday at New Era Field. Photo by Jake French Cheektowaga’s Caleb Graves forces a fumble by Pioneer’s John Oun as one of the standout defensive plays that helped the Warriors top the Panthers, 14-7, in the Federation Class B title game Friday at New Era Field. Photo by Jake French Western New York’s top rushing threat – by far – was brought back down to earth by reigning Section VI Federation Class B champion Cheektowaga Friday, as the Warriors’ defense played a significant role in their 14-7 victory over Pioneer in this year’s title game at New Era Field.

Mike Rigerman, who torched the Warriors for 250 yards and four touchdowns in the Panthers’ 33-14 win during week four of the regular season, was held to a mere 33 yards on 17 attempts when it mattered most. Rigerman, who completed his senior season with 2,144 yards and 29 touchdowns, couldn’t find – or create, with his brute strength – the same lanes he used to spoil Cheektowaga’s Homecoming Game festivities a little more than a month ago.

Needless to say, the Warriors weren’t about to let Rigerman dictate the outcome a second time this season.

“We had a lot of defensive backs making solo tackles on a 235-pound running back, which was just a pretty gutsy display by those guys,” Cheektowaga coach Mike Fatta said. “We felt like we had a pretty good plan to stop Rigerman going into the game, and our kids worked hard at it all week, paying attention to detail and making sure the little things that no one sees on the field were being done correctly. They just played with a lot of physical courage out there, and it made a big difference.”

Though not the same size as Rigerman, Cheektowaga’s bruiser on offense, quarterback KeShone Beal, once again played a major role in the Warriors’ victory, much like he did last year in the final win over Maryvale. Beal scored Cheektowaga’s first touchdown of the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run – with the ensuing two-point conversion run to boot – to give the Warriors an 8-7 lead. But it was his effectiveness on the same play out of the same formation a half dozen consecutive times that helped set up Rayshawn Minter for a 13-yard touchdown out of the same setup that gave Cheektowaga a more comfortable cushion with 3:32 to play in regulation.

“I knew I had to play better because I played pretty bad in the first half,” Beal said of his second-half performance. “The offensive line stepped up and made some blocks, and I knew I had to get in the end zone for us to have a chance at winning. But it makes us feel like we’re pretty unstoppable once we can keep having success like we were in the fourth quarter. When we kept hitting on that one play, I got excited because I knew they weren’t going to stop it after we were having success with it so many times.”

“We punt out of our heavy formation and we also have a fake punt we liked, and we ran it on fourth down and converted – so we kept going back to it and eventually ran it seven times in a row, right into the end zone, because they weren’t converting on it,” Fatta said of the game-winning drive. “We just felt it wasn’t broke, so we didn’t have to fix it. We found the right sweet spot and made sure we didn’t outsmart ourselves.”

Pioneer was finally able to break through in what was a defensive struggle for most of the first half with just under a minute to play in the second quarter, scoring the game’s first touchdown on a 25-yard strike from Nick Rinker to Brian Wittmeyer. Up to that point, neither offense was able to get much going as both squads’ defenses used the crowd energy to come up with big plays.

“We just went into the half looking to keep our heads in the game and not fall apart mentally, because for all intents and purposes they really had only one play on us – in busted coverage – that really did anything for them in the first half,” Fatta said. “Our defense did a great job of keeping us in the game early, and that early effort on that side of the ball kept things loose enough to where we could come back in the second half. It just really showed how this group has come a long way as a team over the course of the year, and it makes you proud of how much they’ve grown to be able to come through and come back yet again from a deficit to gut out a win.”

Beal finished the game with 110 yards on 29 carries to go along with 44 yards on four completions. Jihad Butler caught three of those passes for 37 yards, while Davon Hughes contributed 34 yards on 11 carries. Minter finished with 19 yards on three carries.

Defensively, Taivaughn Roach was in on eight total tackles, while Quran Trotter had five total tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Fred Parsons chipped in with six total tackles and a forced fumble, while Jaylen Williams had a sack.

Isaiah Sharpe snagged an interception for the Warriors (9-1 overall), who face a familiar Section V foe in Batavia (10-0 overall) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in this year’s Class B Far West Regional. The Blue Devils, like Pioneer, have a running back the Warriors will have to keep tabs on in Ray Leach, who recorded a school-record 344 yards and six touchdowns to help them secure their spot in the state quarterfinals.

Cheektowaga topped Batavia in the schools’ two other Far West Regional meetings, a 35-16 victory in 2014 and a 43-36 win in 2015.

“I think it gives us a little bit of a boost, having played in this game last year,” Beal said. “If we get down, we know how to handle it, and if we’re up we know how to keep our foot on the gas pedal. We’ve just got to play hard for four quarters of football. I just feel like whatever our coaches put in place, whatever scheme they want us to run, we’ll be fine because I trust them.”

“We’re pretty familiar with them, having played them twice under the same coach and with that same running back they’ve had – though now he’s a grown man who’s a pretty dynamic player,” Fatta said. “He’s someone, if we’re going to be successful, we need to know where he is and account for him for sure. They’re a spread team – he’s a bigger back and he’s fast, but they run a different system that’s a little trickier to defend compared with what Pioneer does, so it’s going to take a different effort. Every game at this point is going to be a battle that’s about matchups, so we’ll see how we match up against them.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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