Two weeks to go, then two weeks to The Ralph. Talk about downhill running.
We've stolen a pitch from our Monday polls and repeated it here -- the curveball is that you vote for the second-best game of the week, since I'm going to go out on a limb that the top 10 large school and Class A battle of Iroquois at Williamsville South Friday night at 7 is the one most want to watch.
Orchard Park hosts Lockport, just one of several intriguing matchups on a busy (25 games) Friday night of football. Here's what you thought in a poll on what's the best game of the night.
Stay here through the night as we'll have updates as soon as we get them.
Also, tune your twitter to "bufnewspreptalk" to get instant updates of the scores as soon as they are reported to us.
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And away we go:
Note to those attending Bishop Timon-St. Jude games this season. They are offsides on their kickoff times.
I rushed to Tifft Farms and Fitzpatrick Field eager to see the first kickoff in the City of Buffalo this year.
I walked through the gate at 6:55 p.m. as I heard whistles and saw action on the field.
"What time did they start?" I asked the ticket taker.
"7 p.m." he answered.
I looked back at my phone. Still 6:55 p.m. Hmm.
On the field, Timon went three and out and Cardinal O'Hara scored on its first drive of the season as junior Robert Davis' touchdown run. He had another run that set up the score.
O'Hara had a nice pass play -- which featured some nice hitting by Timon -- early in the drive.
7:18 p.m. We're back in the car and heading to Hamburg for its opening night of refurbished Howe Field.
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7:37 p.m. I talk myself into a side parking lot, which is key because this place is mobbed. There are purple-clad people walking everywhere. I see WNY football guru Dick Gallagher on the sidelines as well as Hamburg lacrosse coach Jerry Severino.
Williamsville East has a 6-0 lead on the host Bulldogs, but Hamburg gets a big sack just before I head to the car. The camera angle isn't great, but hey, it's a phone.
While I'm typing in my car, I hear Iroquois turn its game into a blowout against East Aurora, while Hamburg scored a touchdown to take a 7-6 lead on Will East.
7:58 p.m. I do some typing, and it's off to Orchard Park -- an update on WGR said the game is tied at 7-7 late in the first quarter. Looks like I should get moving.
8:02 p.m. Still posting stuff from my car when Hamburg scores a touchdown on an interception return and adds a two-point conversion for a 15-6 lead on Will East. Iroquois' lead on East Aurora is 25-0 late in the first half.
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8:23 p.m. After a slowwwww drive to OP, I walk in and my timing is not great -- 42 seconds left in the second quarter with OP up, 14-7. I'm kicking myself for posting stuff at Hamburg instead of driving right here.
I see two plays -- one is below, the final play of the half -- and I've gotta get going. I can afford to sit at the field for 15 minutes. Gotta get back to the office. Our first deadline is 10:15, so it is going to be super-tight getting games in the paper.
8:49 p.m. After some posting, tweeting and Facebook-ing (see The Buffalo News' Prep Talk blog fan page), I'm heading back to the office. EA has scored a touchdown and is down, 25-7, at Iroquois.
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I'm back in the office for what should be a crazy night.
OK. It's well after midnight, but all of the games that were reported to us are in the main story -- for many games, there are details and statistics that we didn't have room for (or time for) in the paper.
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Did you see a game tonight? Listen to one on the radio?
Let us know what you thought in the comments section below.
WGR's Web site states it will be broadcasting the following games on Friday nights:
Friday: East Aurora at Iroquois Sept. 11: Williamsville North at North Tonawanda Sept. 18: Depew at Maryvale Sept. 25: Sweet Home at West Seneca East Oct. 2: Orchard Park at Lancaster Oct. 9: Iroquois at Williamsville South Oct. 17 (Saturday): Kenmore East at Kenmore West
A quality lineup of games, and it's definitely cool to see high schools going primetime -- especially on a station where they high school sports talk has been quarantined to one hour on Saturday mornings for years.
Iroquois is a big winner with two games, but both are good matchups. The Monsignor Martin Association is a big loser with zero games, but it's somewhat understandable since there aren't any Friday nighters screaming for coverage. If GR is still doing games on Oct. 30, it might not be a bad, spread-the-wealth idea to go with the Monsignor Martin championship rematch of Canisius at St. Francis rather than a Section VI semifinal.
The list is a good mix of games, teams and areas, and it shouldn't be a surprise that the lineup consists of all Erie County teams other than just-across-the-bridge North Tonawanda. Randolph-Maple Grove is a great game for high school football fans, but GR wants to move the ratings needle, especially in a first-time venture like this.
The actual poll starts next week, so this, just like everything in high school football the past two weeks, is just practice. That's right, we're talkin bout practice.
So much so that -- hours after we submitted a top 10 list for publication in the paper -- we have second thoughts about a bunch of this top 10, particularly the large schools. If most polls should be taken with a grain of salt, this one should be taken with 1/10th of a grain.
1. Orchard Park (13-0 last year) [last year's final poll: 1] - A no-brainer to end last year, a no-brainer to start this year.
2. Sweet Home (13-0)  - They might not be the state championship-caliber team they were a year ago (last year's depth was phenomenal), but we still like them here.
3. North Tonawanda (9-1)  - A lot back from a team that gave OP a tough test. You could argue they could be No. 2. Preseason-wise, we clearly see the top three, then a bunch of more teams.
4. Iroquois (8-2)  - Call it scrimmage bias after being fairly impressed with them on their Field of Dreams. After how low I voted them last year, they shouldn't be up this high. But certainly a great year-after-year program that should be in the top 10.
5. Lancaster (6-3)  - Speaking of great year-after-year, here's another top 10 team. We eagerly await the battles of AA South.
6. St. Francis (4-6)  - They beat Canisius when it counted last year, so we gave them a slight edge here, as we did in last year's final poll. Yet another top program which should be in the mix. Another murderous schedule this year.
7.Canisius (6-4)  - On paper they lost a lot, but so did they teams ahead of them. Proof that Nos. 4-7 in this poll could be interchangable. This year their schedule might be just as murderous as Frannies' (both play Ohio's St. Ignatius, Rochester's Aquinas and Pennsylvania's Cathedral Prep).
8. Riverside (10-1)  - The Harvard Cup
champions kept a lot of talent and welcomed top lineman Sean Mulhern of Canisius. With no nonleague games for Harvard Cup teams this year, it's pure guesswork how they stack up against the rest of Western New York. Talk about a poll headache.
9. Kenmore West (6-3)  - Here's a nod to the Blue Devils playing OP tough in the postseason (two losses at OP, one at NT). We err on the side of what you did last year, rather than offseason hype, and we reserve the right to change our mind once the teams hit the field :-).
10. Williamsville South (6-4) [NR] - A whole lot back from last year's team, so we'll throw the Billies in this spot, slightly edging out Grand Island, a top 10 team that's not in the top 10 (I have Frontier right after that at 12, for what it's worth). And well, would you look at this: Saturday afternoon -- Williamsville South at Grand Island.
1. Southwestern (13-0)  - Too many weapons back to not be in this spot.
2. Maple Grove (13-0)  - All signs point to these two being atop the poll for a while. But I guess that's why they play the games.
3. Lackawanna (10-1)  - We'll keep the Steelers up high despite the loss of Capone Smith. Like Iroquois, this might be a case of seeing Lackawanna scrimmage (and scrimmage well).
4. Fredonia (8-2)  - Another slot-them-in-from-last-year, although this year's schedule (C) might hurt them in the polls (to the bunch at B).
5. Cleveland Hill (8-1)  - A bunch back from a team that was a top three program last year until losing to Silver Creek in last year's semis.
6. Depew (6-3)  - When in doubt, rank the teams that are usually ranked.
7. Alden (8-1)  - Might be generous considering what they lost in graduation.
8. Cardinal O'Hara (6-4)
 - Four Monsignor Martin small school titles in a row make them one of the best small schools. They looked it on Scrimmage Saturday, too.
9. Randolph (6-3) [NR] - Could make some noise Friday night at Maple Grove.
10. Cheektowaga (4-5) [NR] - You'd think these guys will be in the top 10 after dropping down from Class A. We shall see -- starting Friday when the Warriors host high-powered Medina.
Our small-school poll regret? Probably not making room for Burgard. We'll call them the small school version of Grand Island (the 11th top 10 team).
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This should be interesting. I've got a list of scrimmages and a plan mapped out, and that list has already gotten rained on.
Oh well -- the umbrella is in the trunk as we head off to Cleveland Hill first to see the Golden Eagles and Cardinal O'Hara in action.
9:52 a.m. Hard-hitting football season has officially begun.
It turns out that Grover Cleveland and Hutch-Tech also scrimmaged at Cleve Hill, so I got more action than I thought in my first stop.
A steady drizzle met me as I stood behind a Cleveland Hill coach doing his own video from a ladder set up behind an end-zone area. A big hit by a defender on a run brought an "OOHHHHHHH!" from the blue-and-yellow helmeted players on the Cleve Hill sideline. On the next play, a Grover quarterback rolled out, prompting the Cleve Hill sideline to yell, "PASS!" Oh yeah, it sure sounds like football season.
Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham was in midseason form, urging players to assemble quickly after plays. "Everybody runs back to the huddle!"
I stepped over to an adjacent field, where O'Hara -- which looked like they were ready for gameday in the familiar white jerseys with black numbers and gold helmets -- set up against Hutch-Tech and its maroon practice gear. I spotted Jerry Falgiano for Hutch-Tech as well as O'Hara coach Angelo Sciandra as I captured my first highlight of the day.
We're in a bit of unchartered video territory as we try out our iPhone -- I can do videos with the phone, then upload them to the blog via YouTube. It's like the future.
But it's with my old-school notebook and pen that I capture a gem. Standing on the sideline of the O'Hara-Tech field, a big hit was audible from the Grover-Cleve Hill field. That prompted one mom to say, "Ohhh they doin' some hitting over there."
I returned to the Cleve Hill-Grover field, where Tony Alessi was coaching Grover and longtime Cleve Hill coach Denny Mason was also on hand.
Cleve Hill had a big run gain as I headed to the parking lot. The rain has seemed to let up. Excellent.
10:19 a.m. We're hitting the road to Clarence next since it's close by and we can shoot up to Lockport right after. But uh-oh -- the rain has picked up big-time.
10:37 a.m. OK. We've made an executive decision. We made this decision as we were driving down Main Street towards Clarence, analyzing on the way if I should just go right up to Lockport. Then I passed Williamsville South on the left, and I said, "Duh -- there's like seven teams practicing there."
Originally I thought I'd be able to get Clarence in, but the writing and posting does take a little time. We'll check out the action here, then head to Lockport, then North Tonawanda, then hopefully Canisius will still be going when we get there.
11:18 a.m. The stop at Will South was a good one -- I just posted videos to the PrepTalkTV channel on YouTube featuring Bishop Timon-St. Jude and Tonawanda, St. Mary's and Maryvale and WilliamsvilleSouth and Eden. South Park was also on hand. The rain has been hit and miss, and right now it has held off.
On the main Will South field, Timon and Tonawanda were on one half and Maryvale and St. Mary's on the other.
Some nice defense by Timon here ...
... and a good -- and quick -- play here by a St. Mary's lineman.
Here's my best highlight of the day, thanks to a reverse by South that came right at me. Gotta have quick feet and your head on a swivel when you're taping on the sidelines.
South had a few nice plays in addition to this scoring play, some on the ground and a few close calls in the air.
11:28 a.m. We're heading up to Lockport with hopes that scrimmages go longer than three hours.
11:59 a.m. Whoops. Swing and a miss. No sign of anything going on at Lockport. Empty parking lot, empty field. So much for my idea that teams scrimmaged all day. We're headed to North Tonawanda, where hopefully I won't be too late.
12:22 p.m. Argh. As I'm pulling into NT, buses from Grand Island and Riverside are pulling out. Argh. Note to self: Scrimmages don't go much over two hours. That's probably a state guideline that I should have known before I started this adventure.
I still got some good bang for the buck in my two stops, seeing a total of 10 teams.
I'll see some more this evening -- I'll start at Iroquois at 5 p.m. and spend a decent amount of time there since they're hosting Frontier and Lackawanna.
5:20 p.m. I arrive at Iroquois' scrimmage, but it wasn't exactly easy to find. The Chiefs, Lackawanna and Frontier were set up on a backfield, accessible via a dirt road that went well behind the high school building. There was a "Field of Dreams" feeling to it as you made your way down a hill, and all of a sudden in a clearing there was some high school football.
One thing that onlookers couldn't help but notice was the wording on a trailer behind the practice field's near end zone.
"EA All the way" was how the duct tape lettering spelled out.
Apparently it was a prank by some Blue Devil backers from neighboring East Aurora who snuck onto the field one night.
Iroquois coach Frank Payne said the message is staying up until the Chiefs' Week One game -- which is against East Aurora.
On the field, the action was the best I saw all day -- which I suppose I shouldn't be surprised about since Iroquois and Lackawanna are two of the area's best programs, while Frontier has been a ranked large school in recent years while they've slugged it out in AA South.
The gathering of quality teams brought out plenty of fans in folding chairs, despite the remote location.
One of the first plays I saw upon my arrival was a Lackawanna run in which the ball carrier hesitated before being swarmed by Frontier defenders. "Don't stop!" yelled Steelers coach Bruce Lakso.
Frontier had a number of quality defensive plays in back-to-back series against Lackawanna and Iroquois, including two straight batted down passes by -- I believe -- the same lineman on Iroquois rollouts.
Above is a pass play by Iroquois finished off with some good hits by Frontier (it makes for a much better highlight when they come to my side of the field).
Here's a big interception and a nice runback -- check out the blocks -- by Lackawanna against Frontier.
A big sack here by Lackawanna against Iroquois.
I headed over to the other side of the field for a few plays and tried to get a photo to show how isolated the location was. It turned into a beautiful night for football after the rainy start to the morning.
6:57 p.m. I pulled in to Amherst, where the Tigers are paired up with Lake Shore on one half of the field while Kenmore East is knocking heads with West Seneca West on the other.
Check out West Seneca West's line pushing through for a touchdown.
A nice finish of a TD run up the middle by Lake Shore.
Amherst with a nice over-the-middle pass play for a score.
Amherst passes right at me (thank you) and the receiver makes a great catch-and-dodge before going down the sideline for a TD.
Kenmore East goes in for a touchdown on a nice keeper through traffic by their quarterback.
8:17 p.m. Back in the car for a ride home, where we'll do some editing and post some cool stuff from the evening scrimmages.
Scrimmage Saturday is officially over.
Overall, it was a great way to get a taste of football before the season gets rolling next weekend.
It's hard to make any great proclamations based on what I saw today -- it is, after all, a scrimmage. The coaches are looking for specific things from their respective units, and they'll be poring over the videos of their day to how their guys did.
As Lake Shore coach Bill Moore said to his team at the close of their evening at Amherst, "the film never lies."
To sum up the evening, here's Kenmore East coach Matt Chimera talking about how nice it was to take his guys up against another team after training camp.
Our apologies about the audio at the end -- he finishes saying he was pleased with his team's physical play: "That's what we asked, to go out there and be physical."
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If you went out at a scrimmage, let us know what you saw.
Our 2009 master football schedule has been posted. Every week, every team, every league.
Well, we're missing just a handful of things that we know of: we need a full schedule from Niagara Catholic, some schools which had scheduled Brocton and Walsh will have to reschedule due to those schools not fielding teams, and we may be missing some nonleague games for Harvard Cup teams.
Coaches/athletic directors are stressed to get us any information we are missing, and also to let us know of any changes in date, time, site or opponent as soon as possible via email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 849-4461.
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Make a note of this: The football schedule is linked at the top of our high school home page for quick reference.
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At a first glance, I'm impressed by the number of public-private games on the schedule, including Jamestown at Canisius and Southwestern at St. Mary's in Week Three and Fredonia at Cardinal O'Hara in Week Five.
The game that may have jumped out at me the most was Sweet Home at Iroquois in Week Five -- that's been a usual postseason matchup of two teams which had been in separate divisions in the now-combined Class A.
It's great to see Orchard Park going outside its league for a nonleague game! Although it is paired up wiht a Section V school (Victor) rather than one from the Monsignor Martin Association. Sigh.
But that's just to kick things off. I'll certainly have more to say once we get closer to the season.
Consider where some of these players are continuing their careers ...
Everyone knows Jeff Tundo is headed to Ohio State, he committed as a junior, but what about Pierce Abrams of Niagara-Wheatfield ticketed for defending national champion Syracuse? Besides honing his skills in Wheatfield, he was also selected to the under-19 Iroquois National team and has been participating with a select group of players on a Six Nation junior A box lacrosse team in Canada. He accepted the prestigious Haudenosaunee Promise Scholarship to SU.
Clay DelPrince of Frontier is going to Brown where he will receive an Ivy League education.
"I chose Brown because they have a really good mix of academic and athletic programs at a very high caliber," said DelPrince, who plans to study biochemistry. "Obviously in the Ivy League they're one of the best academic institutions and lately they're under a new coach and the lacrosse program has been really good, making the NCAA Tournament this year."
Those players wouldn't be going anywhere without good grades. Ten schools received the state's scholar/athlete award for having a combined 90-plus average: Lockport, Hamburg, Lancaster, Iroquois, Clarence, Frontier, Williamsville North, Sweet Home, Niagara-Wheatfield and Williamsville East.
Keith McShea has covered high school sports at The News since his hiring in 1999. The 1995 University at Buffalo graduate and Long Island native (North Babylon Bulldogs) covers — and live blogs — everything from scrimmages to state championships & helps head The News' All-Western New York selections.