Falcons 3-0 heading into crucial road game at Jamestown
By David Yarger
It wasn't the best start for the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons football team Thursday night, but in the end, the team prevailed in its first road game of the season.
The Falcons rolled over the Hamburg Bulldogs, 35-12, Thursday night at Howe Field on the Hamburg High School campus.
The win puts the Falcons record up to 3-0 on the season.
At the beginning, Falcons faithful grew nervous after the Bulldogs ran six plays for a 55-yard touchdown drive. The early score was the first point N-W had given up all season.
On the ensuing kickoff, Hamburg recovered an onside kick and looked to put the Falcons out of the game early.
The Bulldogs, once again, ran deep into Falcons territory, but this time, a fumble recovered by N-W gave the ball to the offense.
After a stagnant first offensive drive, the Falcons defense came back out onto the field. Turnovers were key for the Falcons, and on a second down run, N-W covered up another fumble. The recoveree: Kevin Cannon. The fumble recovery was Cannon's third of the season. Cannon was happy he could step up and make a big play for his team, once again.
"It felt amazing," Cannon said. "I've never had this many fumble recoveries in my life and I just love getting the ball in my hands and holding it up for the crowd (to see) and hearing everyone cheer. It's a great feeling."
The Falcons got down inside the five-yard line on their next possession, highlighted by a Bryson Solomon 42-yard run, but the Falcons turned it over on downs after four unsuccessful plays.
On the ensuing possession, Hamburg was bit by penalties, which resulted in a fourth down and 20 situation. In punting formation, the long snap went through the punter's hands and out of the endzone, resulting in a two-point safety for N-W.
After the safety punt, the Falcons used eight plays to take the lead for good, capped off by a Jordan Parks two-yard quarterback sneak. The Falcons led after the extra point, 9-6.
With Hamburg now on their heels, the Falcons went back on defense, where it had held the Bulldogs in check the last three possessions.
On a second down play, free safety Jake DeWolf read the Bulldogs' quarterback's eyes and intercepted the ball inside the Wheatfield 10-yard line.
After the interception return was negated due to a penalty, the Falcons started at their own five-yard line.
Parks has been known for big runs, as he took one 94 yards for a touchdown last week versus Frontier. He outdid himself Thursday. Parks took the first snap of the possession and bolted 95-yards for a Falcons touchdown. The score gave the Falcons a 16-6 lead with 1:28 left in the first half.
On the ensuing Bulldogs possession, the Falcons defense was back at it again. Noah Mixon jumped a screen pass and intercepted it. The return put the ball on the 27-yard line for the Falcons with under one-minute left in the half.
Once again, on the first offensive snap, the Falcons ran it in for a score, this time Nick Stott carried it in for the touchdown.
The Falcons went into halftime up, 22-6.
Niagara-Wheatfield may have been up by 16 at half, by Falcons coach Russ Nixon knew his team needed to keep their foot on the gas.
"Same message we've been sending all year - stay humble, stay hungry and keep working hard. We know who's in our division. We know that it could come down to point differential - it came down to point differential last year for us. ... We just keep focusing on taking care of our business," Nixon said.
The Falcons lived up to Nixon's message, as on a third and 10 play from the 40-yard line, quarterback Chris Gordon III found Noah Bennett for a 40-yard touchdown pass. After the score, the Falcons led, 28-6.
The Falcons could've added on, but two penalties on two touchdowns hindered its point output.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter, Parks took the handoff from Gordon III to paydirt for a 16-yard touchdown run, extending the N-W lead to 35-6.
Hamburg added a late 45-yard touchdown pass from John Skelley to Zach Nyhart to make it 35-12, but that was as close as the Bulldogs would get.
After a tough start on defense, Nixon said it was nice to see the defense stand tall and not get down on themselves, because it was the first points allowed all season.
"We're definitely proud of the defense again," Nixon said. "They give up that early score - you know it's going to come at sometime. The way they responded, they stiffened up. Four turnovers in the first half puts the ball back into our offenses' hands and our offense makes them pay. We're balanced. The defense is helping out the offense and the offense is helping out the defense."
The four first-half turnovers did play key in the Falcons takeover and Nixon said, "That's the fastest way to light a fire under your team is to keep getting the ball back to your offense for your playmakers."
The Falcons have now given up just 12 points all season on defense, compared to 102 scored on offense. After a season where the Falcons gave up over 40 points per game, Cannon said the team has gone 110 percent every snap to be where its at now.
"Hard work. Lots of hard work. 100 percent every play and you can't do much better than that," Cannon said.
On the offensive side of the ball, Parks rushed 13 times for 174 yards and three touchdowns, Stott ran eight times for 70 yards and Solomon rushed five times for 76 yards. Parks was also 3-7 passing with 84 yards, while Gordon was 2-2 with 44 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, DeWolf led all with 14 tackles and an interception, while Josh Thibeault, Cody Giuliani and Griffin Cornwell had 8,7 and 6 tackles, respectively. Solomon also added a fumble recovery on defense, his second of the season. Also, Antonio Conklin had two sacks, while Thibeault, Mixon and Cannon added a sack apiece.
Niagara-Wheatfield is off to one of its better starts in some years. Nixon couldn't hold back a smile thinking of the team's 3-0 record.
"I'm just proud of these guys. They show up everyday, they bust their butts," Nixon said. "I know I'm not easy on them all the time, but I can't ask for a better group of guys. ... I can't say enough about how proud I am of these guys and where they're taking this program. Everything that has happened, is a reflection of their hard work."
Next up for the Falcons is the Jamestown Red Raiders, another team that was classed down from Class AA to Class A1. Nixon said the team was able to study film for both, Hamburg and Jamestown this past week, because the two teams played each other in week two.
"They got a lot of talent on that team," Nixon said. "It's gonna be another game, and we gotta take the long drive. So, it's a tough game, but it's a league game and it means everything ... and that's the next one up for us."
The battle at Jamestown starts at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21.
The "N-W Black Hole" traveled well for the long car ride to Hamburg Thursday night.