Falcons end season with best record in 10+ years
By David Yarger
It's been a crazy year for the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons football team. From wins, losses, tiebreakers, a death close to the team and more, the team has seen a mixture of everything. On Thursday night, the team ended it's fall campaign with a fulfilling sense of closure.
The Falcons defeated Williamsville East in the Class A Chuck Funke Bowl finals, 22-8.
The win gives the Falcons its best record in about 15 years assistant coach Sal Perricelli said, with a 6-3 record.
The first half was a relatively quick one with no scoring, but late in the second quarter, after a Jake DeWolf reception from Chris Gordon III for big yardage, then a catch and run by Noah Bennett to the one-yard-line, Gordon called his own number and sneaked it into the endzone for the game's first score. The extra point was missed, and the Falcons led at halftime, 6-0.
Williamsville East scored its first points after a punt to the two-yard-line. On the second play of the Falcons offensive possession, a bad snap sailed into the back of the endzone for a safety, making the score 6-2, Falcons.
With East receiving the ball after the safety, the team took advantage and scored after six plays to go up 8-6.
From that point on, it was all N-W. After a kick return by Noah Mixon to the 49-yard-line, Gordon found Raejaun Smith for 37 yards. Running back Nick Stott took the next carry for 12 yards, and Austin Leber finished the drive with a dive up the middle from one yard for a Falcons TD. After a successful two-point conversion from Gordon to Mixon, the Falcons regained the lead, 14-6.
In the first four games of the year, senior defensive end Kevin Cannon caused four fumbles. Thursday night, Cannon used his hands to tip a pass and haul it in for an interception, giving the Falcons the ball around midfield.
After the East turnover, the dynamic duo of Gordon and Smith proved deadly again, as the QB found the senior receiver for 40 yards. Stott finished the drive with a seven-yard run. After a successful two-point conversion, the Falcons led, 22-8.
After another offensive score, the defense stepped up again. This time it was the senior Mixon stepping in front of a pass for his third interception of the year.
Seniors seemed to be the story for the Falcons, as Antonio Conklin, Jake DeWolf and Cody Guiliani made big plays on defense, along with Cannon and Mixon. Smith nearly had an interception on the last East drive, as well.
Leber put the game on ice late with a big run, and that was all she wrote. The Falcons won the Class A Chuck Funke Bowl, 22-8.
The last few seasons, the Falcons have ended its season on the losing end of things. Falcons coach Russ Nixon was pleased to see his squad be able to celebrate at the end of the season.
"It's nice to be able to come out here, get the sixth win in the year. (We) finished strong. ...We finished against strong competition. It was a good win. I'm proud of the way guys responded to adversity," Nixon said.
Nixon praised Noah Greene for stepping in for offensive lineman Kevin Halford, as well as Gordon for being calm and collected in place of starter Jordan Parks.
The game also marked solid back-to-back outings for Smith, as he finished last week's game with three receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns. After two receptions for 77 yards, Nixon said, "I think he realized 'I could do this thing,' and he did a great job again tonight of getting separation and making two big catches that - he makes one that gets us down there to put us up again and he makes a second one that gets us down there to put the game away, basically. So, hats off to Raejaun for being a good athlete."
Nixon was humble when mentioned it was one of the best Falcons football seasons in over 10 years and he gave credit to the work his team put in.
"The thing that brings me the most joy as a coach is seeing them succeed," Nixon said. "So to see this group of guys work hard in the offseason, come out work hard in the preseason camp - to get six wins in a nine game season - that's a good season, that's a very good season."
Of all things, Nixon was excited to see his seniors walk away with a victory after playing a hard-fought game.
"It's gotta feel great for them," Nixon said. "To know that they made those impact plays that really kind of put them up and then kind of finish it strong for us, they're going to have those memories that last forever. ... Memories are gonna last these guys forever."
The Chuck Funke Bowl title is the team's first since 2015.
The team will graduate a plethora of seniors, including: Parks, Tommy Peltier, Kyle Jungier, Joe Lozina, Bennett, DeWolf, Stott, Smith, Josh Thibeault, Justin Pangrazio, Mixon, Conklin, James McVay, Guiliani, Greene, Halford, Jake Leising, Patrick Beier, Will Gansworth, Jacob Gaydos, Nick Virtuoso, Cannon and Kenny Jungier.
The Niagara-Wheatfield defense swarmed Williamsville East Thursday night in a 22-8 victory.
Senior Raejaun Smith had another big game Thursday night, which guided the Falcons to victory.