by Larry Austin
The good news is Grand Island is still undefeated in Class A of Federation football.
GI beat winless Niagara-Wheatfield 14-7 at Terry Harvey Field Saturday to improve to 6-0 on the season. The bad news is the team isn't playing its best football heading into the playoffs.
"No excuses," GI coach Dean Santorio said before he praised the Falcons, who were playing their first home game as their complex is remodeled. "I give them a lot of credit. They played hard, their kids battled. They could have hung their heads and thought, 'Well, we haven't won right now and it's going to be tough to beat a team that's 5-0.' But you know what, they played good football, and our kids need to realize you can't take anything for granted. And we made far too many mistakes on both sides of the ball."
After GI quarterback Quinn Corrao connected with receiver Ben Goc to the Falcons' one-yard line, Paul Sukmanowski carried the remaining distance for a 7-0 GI lead.
Near the end of the half, the Vikings were driving with their hurry-up offense when Joseph Hansen of Niagara-Wheatfield picked up a fumble by Cyle Alcorn and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.
"That was a killer too because we were down in their end and we give up a touchdown," Santorio said.
Sukmanowski later fumbled the ball after a big gain on a screen pass to the N-W 10, one of several miscues for GI in the half.
"We dropped a number of passes, we also fumbled on a screen all the way down to the 10. We just didn't execute," Santorio said.
The teams headed to the locker room tied at 7-7.
GI's defense pinned the Falcons in their own end most of the third quarter. Goc returned an N-W punt into the wind to the Falcons' 24, and a penalty put the Vikings at the 11. Corrao scored from the 1 a few plays later for a 14-7 lead.
Santorio hopes the tight game is a wake-up call for GI heading into Saturday's game against McKinley.
"I hope so. All week, actually the last two weeks, we've harped on our kids that we're not practicing hard enough," Santorio said. "Kids are taking things for granted because we've won games, but you can't go into the McKinley game next week or the playoffs being complacent and thinking you're good enough to win a playoff game. We've got work to do."
Santorio allowed that he was worried the team isn't peaking at the right time of the year.
"Yeah. We've always seemed to play our best football at the end of the season," he said.
"That's a Grand Island football trademark, and right now we're not doing that. We need to get back on track."
GI plays McKinley at Riverside High. Kickoff is 4 p.m. The Macks have three explosive players at skill positions
"The guys are great athletes. They are head and shoulders above everyone on the football field," Santorio said. "We're going to have our work cut out for us. We've got to somehow keep them in check."