By David Yarger
Special to NFP
With five games complete and two remaining, the Niagara Falls High School football team is looking to finish strong and start a run into the sectional playoffs. With a record of 3-2, the Wolverines have put together a surprising season after being predicted to finish near the bottom of the AA North Division.
Of the 51 players on the Wolverines roster, 25 are seniors, which is good for the present as well as the future of the team.
"Our seniors have been the key to our success; they bring athletic ability, leadership and accountability to this year's team," coach Donald Bass said.
Senior captain Will Felvus takes his role on the team seriously and looks to be a role model for the not only the seniors, but the 26 underclassmen.
"On game days, I just tell them to all be ready, because you never know if you're gonna be called in to replace our first string. And to never put their head down. Overall, just be ready for anything," Felvus said.
Alongside Felvus is senior quarterback Drew Spurback. He has seen time under center for the past three years, getting a start his sophomore season, followed by a few starts his junior season, and then winning the starting job his senior year. This season, Spurback has thrown 10 touchdowns in five games.
Spurback has the same views as Felvus when it comes to being a senior captain.
"On game day, I let everyone know, especially the underclassmen, that they have to play like it's their last and also be ready for any situation you're put into," Spurback said.
The Wolverines got tested early this season, as they began versus the defending state champs, Jamestown High School. They held the lead almost the entire game - until the final seconds, when Jamestown kicked a game-winning field goal to win 34-33.
"Yeah, that loss was kinda hard," Felvus said. "We were really close. But on a positive note, we saw we can compete with the best if we're all on the same page."
"After the hard loss to the defending state champs, we learned we could really be a contender for the title, and we match up with the best teams across Western New York," Spurback said. "We had to learn how to finish, and I think we've got it down not to let our foot off their throat when we're up."
After the game, Bass said he felt his team outplayed Jamestown, but lost because of its inability to convert on extra points. The team missed several extra point opportunities.
The Wolverines came back five days later and held on against Hutch-Tech, 27-22, for the team's first win. It was another game where the Wolverines got out on top early, then let the opponent come back late.
The team followed that up with a victory almost identical to the one against Hutch-Tech, but this time it was McKinley High School. The Wolverines won 25-18.
At 2-1, the Wolverines came back home for a homecoming battle against Riverside High School.
The Wolverines got off to a slow start before taking a 21-12 lead into the half. Spurback finished the scoring by throwing a 23-yard touchdown to Breon Harris to effectively put the game out of reach at 28-12. That would be the final score.
The Wolverines came back from the homecoming battle to face a tough Kenmore West squad. Ken West was led by the high-powered offense from quarterback D'Angelo Walker, and running back Terrell Ford. Ford had four touchdowns on the day and it proved to be too much for the Falls to overcome, as they took a hard, 36-14 loss.
"That was a big loss; they're a good team and they outplayed us," Felvus said.
"They are not 22 points better than us, we just had too many mental mistakes out there," Spurback said.
Bass said he told his team the loss was just a missed turn in its goal and compared it to a GPS saying when you miss a turn you can find another way to your destination.
The loss brought the Wolverines to where they are now, at 3-2 heading into a division matchup versus Clarence High School (7 p.m. tonight). The team will end the season at Lockport High School.
With the final games must-win, Bass had one message to his team.
"One day at a time; one play at a time. Don't look at the whole situation, just focus on the next play. If you win that next play you'll be fine," he said.
The players are hungry to win the next two games and make it further into the postseason.
"To make a run in the final stretch, we have to play together as a team and overcome adversity when we are dealt it," Spurback said. He noted the team would have to play "big boy" football down the stretch.
Other than winning these next two games, the team has high goals set for the rest of the year and even the future.
With the sectional title game being played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Bass said that is the team's objective.
"Our goals are still the same: to reach the Ralph and beyond. If we play up to our potential, the sky's the limit," he said.
Spurback said he wants to make it even further - to Syracuse, where the state title game will be played.
The success of the Wolverines this year also shows bright signs for the future. With 26 underclassmen on the roster, the experiences they have this year will help them become even better for seasons to come.
"I believe the future for NFHS football is very bright. We have turned the corner from laughing stock to tough competitor and, with continued hard work and dedication, we'll become a major force in football for years to come," Bass said.