Weekly Feature

2014-09-10 / Sports

Red Devil gridders escape Harm in season opener

Program-record rushing touchdown not enough to push West to victory
Sports Reporter

Scott Pinto rears back to unleash a pass attempt down the field during Clarence’s 31-15 victory over West Seneca West in its week one opener — which took two days to complete due to a lightning delay on Friday. Pinto finished the game with 191 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-18 passing. 
Photo courtesy Michelle Layer Scott Pinto rears back to unleash a pass attempt down the field during Clarence’s 31-15 victory over West Seneca West in its week one opener — which took two days to complete due to a lightning delay on Friday. Pinto finished the game with 191 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-18 passing. Photo courtesy Michelle Layer West Seneca West’s football team had just made things interesting in its season opening clash with Clarence — on junior Aaron Harm’s program-record 99-yard touchdown jaunt with less than a minute to play in the first half of Friday’s contest — when Mother Nature stepped in.

Lightning flashed across the sky, as it did all over Western New York that night, just as the squads had broken for halftime with Clarence sporting a 14-6 lead. That put a mandatory 30-minute delay in place, a delay that resets back to the original start time if subsequent flashes occur before the 30 minutes expire … and there were quite a few pushes of the reset button Friday night.

With the weather pattern appearing to be long lasting, a decision was made to suspend the game until Saturday night, with Clarence set to receive the ball to start the second half. Whether or not the Red Devils would have gone on to win as handily as they did — or at all — if the game had continued Friday night will never be known, but what is known now that the game is finished is that the Indians had no answer for Clarence’s 17-point third quarter that ultimately secured the Red Devils’ 31-12 victory.

“They handled the game better than we did, which is why they came out on top,” West coach Joe Cantafio said. “They capitalized on some opportunities and we came out flat on Saturday. We had momentum going for us right before the end of the first half, but then Clarence did a nice job of keeping our offense off the field for most of the second half. They put up some scores pretty quickly in the third quarter to break the game open and take away any momentum we had.”

Needing to make sure that Harm’s score right before the delay didn’t give the Indians new life, Clarence came out determined to turn the tide once play resumed under calmer skies Saturday night. The Red Devils constructed a touchdown-scoring drive — capped by Declan O’Brien’s 4-yard run — to open the second half and then, noticing the way the winds were swirling, executed a pooch-style kick that landed between West’s second and third waves of receivers and took a friendly bounce which helped Clarence recover the ball.

That solid starting position helped the Red Devils put together a drive that resulted in a 19-yard field goal by Niko Mullen, and before West knew what hit it, it went from trailing by eight to trailing by 18.

“The only thing that the stoppage allowed us to do was to reflect on some of things we were doing well and what they were doing well against us, and it gave us some time to make adjustments at least,” Clarence coach Mark Layer said. “It wasn’t what I would’ve wished for, but it did give us some time to make some adjustments. We knew we were getting the ball to start the second half, so we wanted to come out and be successful, which we were.

“I just really commended the kids for how they came out. It’s not an easy thing to do, picking up a game like that after a long break, but they definitely came ready to play both nights,” Layer continued.

Harm, whose record-setting touchdown in the first half was the result of turnover by Clarence deep in the Indians’ territory, broke free for another long touchdown run to stop the bleeding midway through the third quarter — this time from 42 yards out to help him finish with 165 for the game on just eight carries — but it wasn’t enough to rally his team. Clarence, which led 23-12 after Harm’s second score, put the final nail in West’s coffin when Scott Pinto found Britton Mann on a 10-yard strike before the end of the third quarter to close out the game’s scoring.

“I’m very happy for and very proud of Aaron,” Cantafio said. “He’s a junior who was always the first one at the weight room all summer and is a ‘whateve r-you-need-coach’ kind of player. He’s not even our starting running back, but with injury to Ryan Sherk, he got more time. That was just his third or fourth carry of the game when he set the record. He’s a super hard working, dedicated young man.”

“One of the things I was happiest about with this game was that we really had good balance offens ively,” Layer said. “We had a number of different kids catch the ball and a number of different kids run the ball, and that makes us way more difficult to defend. We were able to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and it seems that all of them bring something different to the table, which gives us a great deal of depth. It’s a nice feeling knowing you’ve got some kids you can count on.”

Clarence was paced offensively by Stephen Marzano’s 54 yards on 12 carries, including his 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that gave the Red Devils an early 6-0 lead. Pinto (7 carries, 37 yards), Brandon Ruszala (7 carries, 36 yards) and Angelo Marzullo (4 carries, 23 yards) helped the Red Devils compile 172 yards on 39 carries as a team.

Pinto also finished with 191 yards through the air on 12-of-18 passing, with Ruszala catching four of those passes — including a 10-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter to put the Red Devils up 14-0 — for 83 yards. Marzano (2 catches, 36 yards), Chris Griner (2 catches, 39 yards) and Mann (2 catches, 20 yards) also had multiple receptions each.

Andrew Lorenz, meanwhile, led Clarence’s defensive effort with eight tackles and a forced fumble. O’Brien and Josh Sweeney each added seven tackles, while Lorenz had three tackles and two sacks. Ruszala (interception), Nate Ess (fumble recovery) and Ryan Schlager (sack) added two tackles each.

The Red Devils (1-0 overall, 1-0 Class AA South) return to action Saturday by traveling to non-league Monsignor Martin opponent St. Joe’s, which dropped its opener to Long Island powerhouse St. Anthony’s. Clarence was upended at home in last year’s meeting between the schools, 35-13, and would love to avenge that loss, but Layer knows that with a program as steeped in tradition as the Marauders’ is, that’s easier said than done.

“We have to have a great week of practice so that we can be ready for a terrific, well coached team,” Layer said. “We’re just looking to build on what we did well this past week, but we also know that they will be a challenging opponent. We’re going to have to play great defense against them, because they have some good weapons at the skill positions. Offensively, we’ve got to get into a rhythm again, something that includes a nice balance between the running and passing games. And if we can win the special teams and field position battles too, we’ll give ourselves an even better chance to win.”

The Indians, meanwhile, aren’t catching a break in their schedule this weekend, as they get to travel to the Southern Tier to take on perennial powerhouse Jamestown. The Red Raiders spent their opening week ending Sweet Home’s 39-home game winning streak, so it’s not exactly a stretch to say they’ll be charged up for this weekend’s meeting with West (0-1, 0-1 AA South).

“Going to Jamestown can be a great experience — it’s like playing in a college stadium — but we can’t get too wrapped up in who we’re playing so much as how we can improve ourselves,” Cantafio said. “You have to prepare for the game so you can do the best you can. I think we have a very hard working group of kids and we’re still trying to find where they best fit. There are new faces each week showing us that they need to be on the field, so we just need to take that potential and put them in the right places so they can continue to get better.”

email: jnadolinski@beenews.com

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