Falcons defense pitches shutout; Offense runs wild
By David Yarger
Opening day for the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons football team was different this year. Before the game, players and coaches gathered around a painted "42" on the field and said a prayer together. The audience also gave the man who donned that 42 a moment of silence. The man who donned 42 was Mike Ziegler, who tragically passed away last winter. To honor their fallen teammate, the Falcons played just like "Ziggy" would have - hard, energetic, passionate and with heart.
The Falcons pummeled the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks, 48-0, to open the season Saturday at Terry Harvey Field.
N-W scored on their first possession and never looked back. After six running plays, which garnered 42 yards, quarterback Jordan Parks found Tommy Peltier in the back of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown pass - giving the Falcons a quick 7-0 lead.
After holding the Lumberjacks, Parks did it himself, running the first play of the series 75 yards for a Falcons touchdown, and making the score 13-0.
On the big play, Parks said, "It felt great. I knew Ziggy was with me the whole time."
After another stop, which included a sack from Kevin Cannon, Parks finished off an 11-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Jake DeWolf, making it 19-0. The big play of the drive - a fake punt on fourth and 10, which Nick Stott ran to the Lumberjacks 23-yard-line.
After the first quarter, the Falcons led, 19-0.
In the second quarter, the Falcons recovered their first fumble of the year, as Cannon jumped on the loose ball.
After steady carries from Austin Leber, Stott and Parks; Chris Gordon III finished off the drive with a four-yard keeper for a touchdown. After the point after attempt, the score was 26-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons recovered an onside kick, and after one play, Parks launched a deep ball right into the hands of Noah Mixon for a 46-yard touchdown, making it 32-0.
On the next NT possession, DeWolf reeled in a tipped pass for an interception - the team's first of the season, and second takeaway of the game.
The Falcons went into the half up 32-0.
After holding NT on their first possession of the second half, Parks ran twice for 33 yards and Stott finished it off with a 30-yard touchdown carry, making it 38-0.
Bryson Solomon intercepted a North Tonawanda deep ball on the Lumberjacks ensuing possession. Three plays after the interception, Parks maneuvered around several defenders and ran 83 yards for his second touchdown of the day.
The final touches on the 48-0 victory came from the leg of Preston Dolan. Oddly enough, the kick's length - 42 yards. With the wind at Dolan's back, his kick came out clean, and as it came down it hit the crossbar, went up in the air, hit it again and then fell through. Nixon said Dolan might've received a little assistance on the last bounce.
"It's ironic - they said that field goal ended up being from 42 (yards). ... We think Mikey might've been up there and giving him that little extra push (to) get it over that crossbar the second time.
In an emotional game for his players Nixon added, "I said, 'Ziggy played this game right. He played with heart. He might not have been the best all the time ... but he never shied away from anyone. If he got knocked down, he got up, and if it was a guy who was bigger than him, it only made him want it more.' I challenged them to ... play for Mike and remember this is a kid who put in the work with us, too, and we truly believe that he's with us."
Following the victory, the players, coaching staff and cheerleaders gathered back at the painted 42 and said a final prayer - a moment Stott called "magical," and he knew Ziegler was with the team the entire game.
"Oh yeah, guaranteed - with everyone," Stott said. "Even the people that didn't know him - he was still with them.
Offensively, the Falcons garnered 578 yards of total offense - 120 through the passing game and 458 on the ground.
Parks led the way with 10 carries for 261 yards and two touchdowns. Through the air, he was 4-6 with 89 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Additionally, on the ground, Stott rushed 10 times for 127 yards. Also, Peltier caught two passes for 44 yards and a touchdown; DeWolf had two catches for 22 yards and a touchdown; and Mixon had one catch for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Nixon was happy to see his team come out after weeks of practicing and play strong.
"It's nice to practice all week, focus on execution and come out and execute the plays like we had talked about and we had planned," Nixon said.
Defensively, it's the Falcons first shutout since Oct. 17, 2014 - a 12-0 win over Lewiston-Porter.
North Tonawanda threw the triple option playbook at N-W, but the Falcons were on top of it all day long.
"Triple option is a tough thing to defend," Nixon said. "We were able to kind of slow them down.
"To come out and execute in all three phases of the game, it's a fulfilling feeling as a coach and a team to come out and execute your game plan."
On defense, Antonio Conklin was all over the place on the field, as he recorded nine tackles, including two sacks. DeWolf added nine tackles and an interception, while Mixon and Josh Thibeault made five tackles and recorded a sack apiece.
Defense was a struggle last season and Nixon said he's seen vast improvement, and he attributed that to experience and improved tackling.
Next up for the Falcons is the Frontier Falcons. N-W defeated Frontier last season, 41-26, and after a big win, Nixon made sure to keep his team level-headed.
"I went into the locker room and told them I'm thrilled they're enjoying the day right now, but there was very little celebration. They know that we have a bigger goal and to achieve that goal we gotta stay focused, we gotta stay on task, and when the time comes, we're going to celebrate," Nixon said.
The Falcons kickoff versus Frontier at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Terry Harvey Field.
Tommy Peltier catches a 21-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Parks.
Jake DeWolf points towards the sky after his 10-yard touchdown reception.
Up, up, and away: Jordan Parks hurdles a defender during Saturday's game.
Kevin Cannon makes a tackle during Saturday's game.
The Falcons gather before the game for a prayer on the painted No. 42.
Jake DeWolf kneels by his lonesome next to the painter No. 42 in honor of Michael Ziegler.