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Countdown to Friday Night Lights: Class AA

By Keith McShea

Who’s who: The nine-team division consists of the Clarence Red Devils, Frontier Falcons, Jamestown Red Raiders, Kenmore West Blue Devils, Lancaster Redskins, Lockport Lions, Niagara Falls Wolverines, Orchard Park Quakers and West Seneca West Indians.

Continue reading "Countdown to Friday Night Lights: Class AA" »

Video: Our #preptalkpreseason tour visits with Depew, Orchard Park & Burgard

Photojournalist Harry Scull Jr. continued our #preptalkpreseason coverage with a visit to Depew to talk to coach Brian Wilson and his players. The Wildcats discussed the 2013 season and their status heading into Scrimmage Saturday.

Meanwhile, Mark Mulville checked in with Orchard Park and fellow photojournalist John Hickey visited Burgard's practice at All High Stadium.

#preptalkpreseason kicks off with start of practice: Visits with OP, Sweet Home & Canisius (with video)

Sweet Home goes through a drill to start its afternoon session. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News)
By Keith McShea

Welcome to the first day of the 2013-14 high school sports season. Today is the first day that fall season teams can practice throughout the state. For football teams, which have held workouts and passing leagues throughout the summer, the preparation begins today for Week One (Sept. 6-7).

At Canisius, a most notable transfer will not be on the field today. TJ Wheatley, the junior standout who I wrote about in Sunday's paper, is out with what the coaching staff is calling -- get ready hockey fans -- an "upper body injury." The team says it has not been authorized by Wheatley's family to disclose the specific injury. 

Wheatley is listed as day-to-day. The team is hopeful it will have him in the opening-night lineup at Rochester's McQuaid on Friday, Sept. 6.

Wheatley participated in passing leagues with Canisius this summer. Once the injury was diagnosed it was determined that it occurred back at the Sound Mind/Sound Body camp in Michigan in June, which was prior to the Wheatleys' decision to attend Canisius.

UPDATE: Wheatley has been CLEARED. 

Continue reading "#preptalkpreseason kicks off with start of practice: Visits with OP, Sweet Home & Canisius (with video)" »

National Signing Day: Canisius' Hunter makes it official with Bowling Green this morning

By Keith McShea

Today is National Signing Day for college football, the first day recruits can officially sign with Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) programs. 

Canisius senior lineman Ryan Hunter, who verbally committed to Bowling Green last summer, signed with the Falcons at a 10 a.m. ceremony at the Delaware Ave. school.

Hunter, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound two-way force for the undefeated Monsignor Martin Association champion Crusaders (who finished ranked first in The News large school poll and shared the spot in the state Class AA poll), was named The News Player of the Year along with his teammate, junior standout running back Qadree Ollison. 

A teammate of Hunter's, senior wide receiver Denzel Benton, was also part of the signing ceremony as he commited to Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) member Rhode Island.

Also committing to an FCS school today was Andy Smigiera of West Seneca East, who signed with Robert Morris.

Orchard Park senior lineman Michael Senn announced last month he would sign with Albany of the FCS.

Live from Section V's sweep of the boys lacrosse regionals (plus video highlights & interviews), and all of Saturday's #preptalkscores

I'll be spending the afternoon and evening at the Far West Regional boys lacrosse games championships at Hamburg High School.

While I'll have updates from those games, tweets to the hashtag #preptalkscores will also automatically show up in the live blog below. So if you are a game tonight and you're updating via Twitter, be sure to include that hashtag. I'll have periodic tweets updating these games at @KeithMcSheaBN, but most of my play-by-play updating will come in the live blog.

Check out today's full schedule on our scoreboard page, where you can check back throughout the evening for updated scores and highlights.

See you out at the games, in the blog and on the tweeter. :-)

* * *

My story is here.

Here are some video highlights from the Class C game -- pretty cool ones at that, particularly the exciting endgame. It's either really cool, or really distracting -- but there are two play-by-plays going on with the Penn Yan radio coverage along with the Time Warner Cable broadcast. And yes, I'm kicking myself for missing Zed's game-tying record-breaker. Talk about a turnover/failed clear by me. Ugh. Chest-tap (my bad):

Some of the postgame show:

More quotes from postgame interviews:

Silver Creek junior Zed Williams:

"I'm disappointed -- I wanted to win it for the seniors.
"I saw time ticking down, and I had to take a shot, in case we missed we'd get another chance -- but he made a good save."

Orchard Park coach Gene Tundo:

"We just didn't have a whole lot of scoring opportunities. They slid fast and took away our [offense]. They're just good. Big defenders, a big goalie, we just never really got in a flow.

"We didn't clear the ball well. We had the ball 8 or 9 times where we just didn't get it in the offensive zone. They' played defense the whole length of the field -- they're a good team.

On OP's defense: "They did a great job , awesome. They played great. Our goalie [Taylor Ferrino} made some great saves. They got tired. You play that much defense, you get tired."

"We threw the ball away a couple of times clearing it, and on offense, and those extra possessions hurt you.

"We needed a little spark, and we just didn't get it. Their defense shut down any hope we had. They don't really have any weaknesses. Their attack is good, middies are good, there's not really a weakness. And they play a tougher schedule, too.

"I don't think we've ever been shut out. Never. I don't think we have."

Irondequoit senior Nick Doktor:

On difference of first & second halves: "I think we were a little antsy at first. We had a lot of bad turnovers, not taking care of the ball, and that allowed them to get off to a good start. They were capitalizing on our turnovers and our mistakes. That was a catalyst for them.  Another big problem in the first half was they were killing us on time of possession.

"We wanted to settle the ball down once we got it, and work our offense, and once we knew we could do that, we know we have a lot of offense, a lot of guys that can put the ball in the back of the net.  

On winning on Hamburg's home field: "They had a great crowd, it was a great atmosphere, and obviously they're very comfortable here playing on their home field. We battled and they battled and it was a great game.

On Hamburg pulling its goalie in a one-goal game with three minutes to play: "We were just trying to be patient. They have a lot of guys on offense -- they could have come back as easily as we did. We were just trying to keep it from them as long as we could."

Irondequoit coach Craig Whipple:

On playing on Hamburg's home field: "It was a difficult situation -- we couldn't do anything about it. We just knew that we would have to take care of our business to come out with a win. Was it a difficult scenario? It definitely was. But I'm proud that they were able to come out and captailize and adjust to being in this environment.

On the great second half: "I think they settled down. It was a hostlie environment, and once they settled down and knew they could play their style of lacrosse they came out and did that. That represented in goals, and then it represented in everything else on the field. As soon as everyone settled down and put a few in the back of the net, they understand all right, we're comfortable. The defense settles down, the next guy hustles a bit harder and finds those ground balls and we're able to capitalize.

On Section V's sweep: "Definitely [pleased to complete the sweep]. You battle teams thoughout the year, but when you leave [the section], you want the guys around you to do well as well. So I'm excited about that.

On faceoffs: "It defintely changed the flow of the game. It enabled us to get back in there because we were seeing more poss on offense, and I thought if we were to see more possessions on offense, that we would establish goals, and once we get comfortable scoring , you thrive off of that and you build off of that.

On if Hamburg pulled its goalie too early -- with three minutes left in one-goal game: "Not necessarily.

"I think they respected the fact that our six guys on offense are really good ballhandlers. I think they respected the fact that we were going to be able to capitalize and maybe even put one more by them. I appreciate the fact that they went out swinging. They wanted the ball back. If they created a turnover , who knows, they could have went down there, got a goal and got the momeneum. I don't think it was necessarily too early for them. I think they knew we've been in a lot of tight games before this year [and were able to close them out]."

Hamburg coach Jerry Severino:

"We were supposed to end this game in a different way. We played a great first half, I was so happy with the way they were playing. We were really attempting not to have what happened in the second half. But Irondequoit was a great challenge. They took advantage of our mistakes. Honestly, we played our worst half at the most important time of the year. We played a pretty poor second half.

"When we get on a run like that [like Irondequoit did], we say it's like sharks when they sense blood in the water, and that's what happened. They had a sense that they could do what they did; and we weren't able to stop them. The ball bounced one way a couple of times. They were much better on the ground ball; they were better on the faceoff in the second half. we made some decisions that we we'd like to have back.

On pulling the goalie late in the game: "it's risky when you do that, but we were in a desperate situation and that's the way it goes.

On faceoffs: "We had an awful lot of trouble getting the ball at the faceoff 'X'. I rotated three or four guys in, but they gained probably three or four faceoffs for every two we got. Those kind of possessions are huge."

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

Class AA football final stats & info

Who: Orchard Park Quakers (12-0) vs. IX-Newburgh Free Academy Goldbacks (10-1).

When: Sunday, 6 p.m.

Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse.

Tickets: $10 (includes all of Sunday's finals). Sunday's other finals: Class C, noon -- Southwestern (11-1) vs. I-Dobbs Ferry (10-1); Class B, 3 p.m. -- V-Hornell (12-0) vs. I-Croton-Harmon (11-0). Friday's finals: D, 11 a.m. -- V-Letchworth (10-1) vs. IX-Chester (11-0). A, 2 p.m. -- IV-Maine-Endwell (11-0) vs. II-Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake (11-1). Note: The finals are Friday and Sunday due to Syracuse University's home game Saturday vs. Cincinnati.

TV: Time Warner Cable SportsNet (all games).

NYSPHSAA championship: The only state championship in New York is the one held by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which consists of nine football-playing sections. Not included are New York City's Public Schools Athletic League or private schools from Western New York, greater New York City and Long Island). In addition, Section VIII (Nassau County) and Section XI (Suffolk) of Long Island do not participate in the NYSPHSAA football playoffs.

State rankings: 1. St. Anthony's (L.I.) (10-0) (last week: 1); 2. Orchard Park (LW: 2); 3. Newburgh (LW: 16).

Orchard Park state playoff history: This is OP's second championship game. It is 1-0 after its 21-17 victory in 2008 over I-Monroe-Woodbury in which MVP Kyle Hoppy ran for two TDs and Jeff Tundo one in a 21-0 second half for OP. OP has 12 Section VI titles, three Far West Regional wins in 10 games; and two state semifinal wins in three appearances (07, 08, 11).

Orchard Park's road to the final: Section VI final … beat Jamestown, 30-10. Far West Regional … beat V-Rush-Henrietta, 42-35. State semifinal … beat IV-Binghamton, 35-6.

Orchard Park coach: Gene Tundo (18th season, 149-36).

Orchard Park key players: sr. QB David Crowley (5-11, 175; 95-145, 1,688 yards, 18 TDs), sr. RB/LB Okoya Anderson (5-10, 225; 193-1,719 yards, 31 TDs rushing; 29 tackles), sr. WR Ben Johnson (6-3, 200; 46-793, 10 TDs receiving; 16 tackles, five interceptions), jr. WR Ben Holmes (6-0, 177; 18-338, three TDs receiving; 21-249, four TDs rushing); jr. WR Austin Goltz (5-10, 165; 15-288, four TDs receiving); LB/QB James Fitzgerald (6-2, 225; 107.5 tackles; 20-157, three TDs rushing); sr. LB Richie Moore (5-11, 212; 55.5 tackles, INT); sr. DL Chase Smith (6-4, 230; 43.5 tackles); sr. DB Luke Hoppy (5-10, 168; 31 tackles, three INTs); sr. SS Kole Robinson (5-11, 175; 29 tackles, two INTs); sr. OL Devon Leach (6-3, 300); sr. Chris Eisenhut (6-4, 290); jr. OL Michael Senn (6-3, 270); sr. P/K Austin Reese (6-1, 205; 58-65 PATs, 4-5 FGs, 34.8 punt avg.).

Newburgh state playoff history: First state championship appearance after winning sixth title in Section IX (Dutchess, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster Counties). First state playoff appearance since 2003 (quarterfinal loss).

Previous state playoffs: 2002 (semifinal loss), 2001 (quarterfinal loss), 1999 (semifinal loss), 1997 (quarterfinal loss).

Newburgh's road to the final: Section IX final … beat Warwick, 55-0. State semifinal … beat II-Shenendehowa, 19-6. Only loss was to Kingston, 3-0, in regular season finale. Its regular season win over state power Monroe-Woodbury ended M-W's 63-game win streak against local competition.

Newburgh coach: Bill Bianco (third season, 21-8). Newburgh key players: sr. QB Mark Risio (5-8, 170); fr. RB Anthony Dubose (6-0, 175); sr. OL/DL Mikal Myers (6-0, 305; 85 tackles, 11 sacks); sr. DL/TE Mike Esposito (11 sacks); sr. K Jeremy Stinson (35 touchbacks, 40-yard FG to earn MVP honors of state semi).

In Saturday's paper: A preview look at Southwestern and the Class C final.

On the web: Prep Talk Live will have photos, video and a live blog with play-by-play for Sunday's games.

---Keith McShea

Review blog from Class AA state semifinal

Review blog from Far West Regionals - Class AA

Review live blog from Class AA sectional final

Live from Scrimmage Saturday: Seven stops and 24 teams (with 34 video highlights plus an episode of PrepTalkTV)

Cheektowaga and Eden line up on their first series with the Walden Galleria looming in the background. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News)

If it's the last Saturday of August, it must be Scrimmage Saturday, and we must be on our way to seeing as much football action as we can.

We'll be bopping around Western New York today -- as we have the last two years -- to catch as much football as we can in a limited time.

Disclaimer/explainer: Regular visitors to the blog know how much I love it when fans cite scrimmages as evidence for one team being better than another during the regular season, especially when it comes to the discussion of our polls. Just because I'm interested in all of the scrimmages (and getting to as many as I can), and learning about teams and players, they are still scrimmages. Once the season starts, I don't want to hear about them. :-)

If you're out and about like we are today, we want your reviews and breakdowns of what you saw. Keep it in context -- try and notice which first-team units are out there and what the teams are trying to do. Be sure to comment here our on our Facebook page, tweet us at @KeithMcSheaBN or send an email.

8:34 a.m. We are on our way. I met up with photographer Mark Mulville at One News Plaza and we're headed to Cheektowaga for our kickoff.

Eden, Springville, Tonawanda and West Seneca East are visiting Cheektowaga. We're planning a quick stop before heading nearby to Cleveland Hill. 

9:22 a.m. Great start to the day for us -- and for Eden. The Raiders, known for their ground-and-pound-and win formula, threw for two touchdowns against Cheektowaga -- including one on the first play of the scrimmage! -- and added in another touchdown as we were leaving. 

We were on hand for some warmups before things got started, with Tonawanda coach Rob Gross asking his team, quite loudly, "What's this half-speed!? Why are we doing anything half speed?!"

After a fairly lenghty prepractice address by the officials, we got started as the head referee said, "Rock and roll, Scott," to Cheektowaga coach Scott Zipp.

And early misstep by Cheektowaga against Eden prompted a "Do your job!" admonition from an assistant coach to a player.

On the other half of the field, West Seneca East scored a TD against Tonawanda. 

And let's go to the video:

Above is our first play of our season as West Seneca East got things off and running against Tonawanda. 

Talk about a great start for Eden. This is their first play as their offense went against Cheektowaga. 

A nice run for Eden.

9:30 a.m. Just about to pull in to Cleveland Hill. (Reminder for any hey-buddy-keep-your-hands-on-the-wheel fans: Mulville is driving).

9:37 a.m. iPhone update from Cleve Hill, where they haven't started due to Silver Creek being late. This may screw up some of our travel plans. We'll see.

9:48 a.m. Official addresses teams: "Next week it starts for real, today's for fun."

10:24 a.m. Back in Mulville's Honda heading north to Lockport. It's a super bummer that Cleve Hill was behind because we're a half hour off the ideal schedule I had set up for the day. That's alright. Every game (and every assignment) isn't going to go as planned and you've got to make those key adjustments, right? 

On the bright side, we saw the first-stringers for all four teams at Cleve Hill. The defenses ruled the first round as a fired-up Silver Creek unit bottled up Burgard and the Cleve Hill defense kept Cardinal O'Hara out of the end zone. 

Daryl Spencer had a nice sack for a big loss for Cleve Hill on defense, then looked very good with some rollout completions on offense. Zeddie Williams, who should be the feature back after the graduation of older brother Zach, looked solid out of the backfield for Silver Creek. Burgard also had some very solid run stops. 

Here are the top videos from Cleve Hill:

10:36 a.m. It's a long trip to Lockport. We're just on to Transit from Millersport & the I-990. Six top programs in action up at Emmet Belknap Intermediate: St. Francis, Sweet Home, North Tonawanda, Williamsville South, Grand Island and the host Lions. 

Trying to plot out a backup plan -- a main stop for us is Orchard Park, which is hosting Canisius in a scrimmage that started at 10.

11:02 a.m. Got to Lockport in time to catch the tail end of Jordan Johnson of Sweet Home leading the offense against Will South. Johnson and Sweet Home looked to be moving the ball fairly effectively -- he had a touchdown pass to the far left side of the field called back on a penalty. We didn't see a ton of Sweet Home against Will South but we saw a few more plays against Lockport. 

Williamsville South and Grand Island were paired up on the other end and there were some hard hits, including a busted play for South that almost resulted in a hit on coach Kraig Kurzanski, who was in the customary coaches' spot behind the huddle. 

St. Francis finished strong on defense against Grand Island and then paired up with North Tonawanda. I caught the second half of that pairing, with NT making some nice stops on defense. 

Here's our best video from Lockport:

11:31 a.m. We're on the road again, heading south and hoping to fit in a stop at Riverside but that might not be a great decision with OP are key final stop. 

11:37 a.m. Just talked to PrepTalkTV partner Lauren Mariacher at Canisius. The first-stringers are done there -- she has video and interviews from there so I might not go down there. I think we'll head to Riverside.

11:40 a.m. Just checked in with Lauren again. Canisius and OP will be on the field for another hour, so Mark and I are going to squeeze in a visit to Riverside, which is hosting McKinley, Bishop Timon-St. Jude and Maple Grove.

Even if we stay just a few moments, we'll be able to get some video, photos and some looks at the teams. Right now we've seen 14 teams in three stops.

With Scrimmage Saturday, it's certainly about quantity, not quality.

11:54 a.m. And JUST when we think we've come up with a great plan, we pull into the Riverside parking lot and pass a kid wearing orange-and-black carrying his shoulder pads out. 

"That's not a good sign," says Mark. 

It wasn't. The Riverside field was empty.

The kid was from McKinley. Arghhhhhhh.

If I wrote what I'm feeling right now, I'd get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Maybe two.

Off to OP. Arrrrrrgh. Sigh.

1 p.m. We caught the very end of the Canisius scrimmage at Orchard Park, did some interviews and filmed an intro for PrepTalkTV. Lauren Mariacher is working on that and it'll be posted later today. 

I'm headed back to One News Plaza to get some more videos and details posted before heading out to evening scrimmages at Iroquois and Amherst. 

More updates to come ...

3:02 p.m. Here is the finished PrepTalkTV product (now starring on the home page):

3:49 p.m. I've posted a bunch of video here, and I'll have more to come from the six-team Lockport scrimmage as well as some from my next two stops -- Iroquois and Amherst.

4:26 p.m. Hello from the awesome back field setting at Iroquois.

Iroquois' practice field is way behind the school. And I mean wayyyy behind.

5:40 p.m. Note to football coaches and athletic directors. If you want Prep Talk hanging out at your scrimmage for a long time, have it at night :-).

Got a good long look -- along with the Prep Talk blog's "Milt Latimer" -- at Lackawanna, Frontier, Iroquois and Niagara-Wheatfield, seeing all of their first-strings go at in in their second go-round of '1's.

Lackawanna was very impressive with Keith Taggart leading the way not only at running back but on defense. Some big hits there.

Niagara-Wheatfield sure looked the part, sporting uniforms which looked ready for gameday, right down to every player's pulled-up red calf socks with a black Falcon logo on them. Coming off a winless season and with a new coach in Tim Hagerty, the program looks like it has a little spark. The sideline was extremely into the final offensive session against Iroquois in the first go-round.

Iroquois and Frontier both had good spurts in their session against each other, some nice run stuffs and scoring drives. Frontier got a spark on its offensive series after it made a change at quarterback.

It looked like a productive scrimmage for all four teams.

Here are the video highlights, which were included the best stuff I saw all day:

With six stops and 20 teams seen, now I'm off to Amherst for the final stop of the day.

6:25 p.m. Arrived at Amherst, which is hosting West Seneca West, Kenmore East and Hutch-Tech.

7:09 p.m. Saw some nice play at Amherst's Dimp Wagner Alumni Field, where it appeared that the hosts were the top unit -- not too surprising based on last season and the Tigers' returning experienced players, but certainly impressive nonetheless. Amherst is very fast, and they showed it off on both sides of the ball against a West Seneca West unit that made a few unforced errors, including some turnovers on offense. The Tigers had one player sprint from the backside to chase down a run, and also sped to big gains off of short passes.

Hutch-Tech had some nice run stops and moved the ball better than Kenmore East did in their two series.

The highlights:

And check this out -- I call it a day and walk off the field, and as I walk out of the gate, I run into Tonawanda coach Rob Gross. He was the first coach I saw this morning, and the last coach I see as I leave. Can't make this stuff up.

I think that gives us a very strong finish to our Scrimmage Saturday -- looks like we're ready to go for next weekend.

* * *

Also check out a photo gallery by Mulville.

---Keith McShea

(@KeithMcSheaBN on Twitter)

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About Prep Talk

Keith McShea

Keith McShea

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.

@KeithMcSheaBN | [email protected]