Senior's 15-yard run caps Wheatfield comeback; Gordon & Smith connect for two TD's
By David Yarger
On a rainy and dreary day at Niagara-Wheatfield's Terry Harvey Field, the Falcons supplied one of the most thrilling comeback victories in some years, as Niagara-Wheatfield defeated Williamsville South, 34-33, in the semifinals of the Class A Chuck Funke Bowl.
The game had a little bit of everything; good offense and defense, a plethora of penalties, some chippy play, and on and off weather - which all added to possibly the best game of the season.
The Falcons were down 33-20 with under four minutes to play and seemed out of the game. After a quick score and defensive stop, the Falcons drove down the field and score to take the lead with just over a minute to go.
Prior to the comeback, though, Williamsville South got off to a quick lead, as Billies quarterback Joe Battaglia rushed for a 17-yard score.
The Falcons' first score of the day came from Jordan Parks, who took a quarterback keeper 63 yards for the offense's first score in 10 quarters of play.
Will South took the lead in the second quarter after Battaglia found Anthony Galasso for a 14-yard score. After a failed two-point conversion, the score was 12-6, Billies.
The first half ended with some pushing and shoving, as Parks was tripped up near the track area behind the Falcons bench. Several of Parks' linemen came to his defense, which led to a scrum on the Falcons sideline between both squads and led to one ejection.
The Billies went into halftime up, 12-6.
After penalties on Wheatfield were administered on the second half kickoff, the Billies had great field possession to start the half, which led to a quick 25-yard run for a touchdown. After a successful kick, South led, 19-6.
After a Nick Stott return to the 48, quarterback Chris Gordon III found Raejaun Smith twice on the drive - once for 26 yards, and on the next play for a 19-yard touchdown. Following a nice catch from Noah Mixon for the two-point conversion, the Falcons trailed, 19-14.
The Falcons held the Billies on defense, and on a third down and 30 yards to go play, Parks took the keeper for a 37-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was no good, and the Falcons led, 20-19.
The Billies answered back quickly, though, as Battaglia carried his team down the field, capped off by a 5-yard touchdown run. The QB keeper gave South the lead back, 27-20.
Gordon looked to answer back quickly, as he found wide receiver Joe Lozina for big yardage, but the ball was fumbled into the endzone and recovered by the Billies for a touchback.
Battaglia looked to put the final nail in the coffin, as he found Jon Clifford for a 29-yard score. The TD made it 33-20, Billies.
The Falcons answered quickly on offense, as Gordon found Smith again for a 49-yard touchdown reception. The score got the Falcons within five, 33-28.
After a turnover on downs by South, the Falcons offense came back onto the field looking to notch a comeback.
After three carries from Stott for 29 yards, senior Jake DeWolf capped off the thrilling comeback with a 15-yard touchdown run, where he shoved off a couple defenders and refused to go down. The two-point conversion was no good, but the Falcons led, 34-33, with just over a minute left.
The Billies had time for a possible comeback, but they were stopped by the Falcons defense who secured the comeback win.
Of the comeback win, Falcons coach Russ Nixon said he challenged his guys at halftime and said, "I challenged them to come out and play Falcon football the way that we've been practicing all with the style, the intensity, the focus that we are asking them to bring every single week. I thought they did a great job today ... overcoming everything."
Offensively, Gordon led the way throwing 10-15 for 195 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Smith added three receptions for 103 yards. Parks and Stott led the rushing attack with 72 and 70 yards, respectively.
Defensively, Noah Bennett and Griffin Cornwell led with nine tackles, while Noah Mixon had seven tackles and Cody Guiliani and DeWolf made six tackles.
Nixon spoke highly of Gordon, who stepped in for Parks who was ejected after a questionable call. Nixon was also thrilled to see Smith have the day he had.
"Gordon did a great job stepping in in a very difficult situation. (He) did a wonderful job of leading the offense and the team, not just once, but twice.
"Raejaun Smith - he was a transfer this year when Niagara Catholic closed. I've been telling him all year 'stick with it man, stick with it man. It's gonna come.' I told him before today 'Today's your day.'... There's a guy that stepped up big time - both those players," Nixon said.
Of the win, Gordon and Smith were excited to play a big part.
"It feels great," Gordon said. "I couldn't do it without the lineman. I can't thank them enough."
Smith added, "It felt good. I didn't think I could do it, but I went out there and I did it. They gave me the chance and I made good opportunities."
Of their connection on the field, Smith patted Gordon on the back and said "This is my guy. It's my A-1, day-one!"
The Falcons also faced adversity during the game, with several questionable calls not going in their favor. Nixon was visibly frustrated with the officiating during the game, but after the game was finished he said he was happy his team persevered to get the victory.
The win also gives the Falcons a 5-3 record, which guarantees them a winning season, regardless the result of next week's game. Nixon was emotional about the record, but said he wants to finish strong.
"It feels nice," Nixon said. "We got one more we're gonna focus on. I told them I want to get this Funke Bowl. I know what people say about it, but we've battled. We've been through so much this year that I wanna finish strong."
The Falcons final game of the season is in the finals of the Funke Bowl at 7 p.m. Thursday at Williamsville East.
Jordan Parks rushes in from 63 yards for Falcons touchdown
Nick Stott defends a pass attempt
Chris Gordon III hands the ball off to Austin Leber