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.
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 buffalonews.com 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.
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.
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.
Panama beat Pine Valley, 7-2, in the Class D softball final.
Westfield beat Randolph, 4-3, in the Class C softball final thanks to a walkoff RBI single by Rachel Quagliana.
Olean beat Depew, 4-0, in the Class B final for the Huskies' first sectional title.
In the boys lacrosse state Catholic final downstate, Bishop Timon-St. Jude loses, 10-9, at Iona Prep.
Silver Creek held off a furious Raiders' rally to win its second straight Section VI Class C title, 17-16.
The game was suspended Friday night due to lightning with Silver Creek leading, 13-9, late in the third quarter.
In the girls lacrosse Far West Regionals at Amherst, Lancaster got off to a quick, 4-1 start in the A game before Pittsford surged back, scoring 12 unanswered goals in a 16-6 victory over the Red Devils.
In Class B, superpower Canandaigua dominated West Seneca East, 23-4.
Amherst fell in the Class C game to Honeoye Falls-Lima, 18-6.
I'm running around to different sites this afternoon before tonight's chat -- but the rush-hour traffic in the Northtowns isn't helping.
First stop is Williamsville South softball. Some rain but just a light drizzle.
5:21 p.m. Will South has a 1-0 lead on West Seneca East after four and a half.
Off to Clarence for softball and lacrosse.
5:42 p.m. Arrive at Clarence to see that the home team has an 8-2 lead on Lancaster with less than two minutes left in the second quarter.
Also an update from correspondent Nate Beutel -- West Seneca East beat Williamsville North, 13-9, in the Class B girls lacrosse final.
5:47 p.m. Clarence softball has a 3-1 lead on Niagara-Wheatfield -- whoops, just made it 6-1 with a three-run homer by Tori Nappo in the bottom of the sixth. Val Nappo just added an RBI single for a 7-1 lead.
Well-placed sources here say that Williamsville North is up on Lancaster, 4-1, late in the other AA softall semifinal.
Also, Sean Bruso just texted me that Lancaster has a 6-5 halftime lead over Clarence in the Class A girls lacrosse championship.
6:11 p.m. We have a final score: Clarence beats Niagara-Wheatfield in the AA softball semifinals, 8-3.
6:19 p.m. Over at the lacrosse field (the football field), Clarence has a 9-4 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Man, Clarence just made it 10-4 while I was typing and not video-ing. Argh. Missed out on some softball stuff too.
6:22 p.m. Now 11-4. Still typing. Ugh.
6:32 p.m. Clarence leads, 13-5, with 3:56 left. And yes, we got some video highlights. Whew.
6:43 p.m. Clarence wins, 13-5. Nice job by the Red Devils to reach their first boys lax final. Good, physical, well-played game from what I saw.
Off to Hamburg.
7:28 p.m. Arrived at Hamburg after a very necessary fuel stop (five diet Cokes to get me through the night).
Hamburg boys have scored four times -- I believe -- while I've been trying to find a parking spot. They just have Iroquois overmatched. Iroquois called a timeout after the fourth goal -- and just after I found a spot.
Also we have some final scores. Lancaster wins it's sixth straight Class A title in girls lacrosse with an 11-9 win over Clarence in what must have been a great game. thanks to correspondent Amanda Bremer and Mr. Bruso for the texts in the last few minutes.
Also, Mr. Bruso confirms a 4-1 softball final victory for Will North.
7:39 p.m. Correspondent Ben Gaughan reports that Albion beat Williamsville South, 5-3, to win the Class A baseball title.
7:49 p.m. The sky darkened big-time and a serious downpour hit Hamburg. They're still playing, but I'm still in the car -- for now.
7:50 p.m. Rain has stopped. Iroquois hanging in there at 4-2 with 3:44 left in second quarter.
8:01 p.m. Awesome goal by Iroquois -- which I caught on video -- late in the quarter makes it just a 4-3 halftime lead for Hamburg. Hmmmmm. Battery running low on iPhone - hope we have enough juice to handle a closer game than most expected.
8:21 p.m. We have a lightning delay - which means we have a 30-minute wait. Hamburg has scored twice to take a 6-3 lead with 3:48 to play in the third quarter.
With the live chat at 9:30ish, I'm going to head back to One News Plaza.
Back in the car. It wasn't raining when the delay was called, but it is now and fans are seeking shelter across the street in the high school. Thunder rumbled often before lightning was seen.
See you in the chat and we'll have all results posted as soon as possible.
8:40 p.m. Wow. Did some work in the car - now we have a torrential downpour with thunder and lightning. Not sure if they'll get to finish tonight.
I'll have video of the stormy weather, too :-)
9:45 p.m. We're back at One News Plaza, fuled with some Subway and up and running with our weekly live chat.
* * *
If you're out at a game, let us know what you saw and what you thought of the action.
Williamsville South, which lost to Grand Island in last weekend's Class A semifinals, and West Seneca East, which also lost in the semifinals at Iroquois, played a ninth game Thursday night with South winning, 48-28, at East.
Here's our Web story (one which, by the way, has more information about this weekend as well as Thursday night's games than we could fit in the paper):
A few things:
* Any issues I have with what happened in this game have nothing to do with Joe Licata, who is a fabulous student-athlete, and, from my few interactions I've had with him in the course of doing my job, he seems to be a great young man. The kid is a great player and that's why colleges are after him. He throws touchdowns. That's his job. That's what he does.
* The reason the Will South game is at the end of our story is because the record was set in a ninth game. The statistics are certainly legitimate. The games are a chance for schools to play more football, and I'm in favor of them. But I think everyone would agree that these games certainly fall under a different category than a regular season game.
* Maybe the ninth-week thing is part of what is giving me a not-so-great feeling in my gut.
Just because it's not the regular season anymore it doesn't mean sportsmanship has to get thrown out the window.
First and foremost: These games are supposed to be a good thing, giving teams another opportunity to play and programs a chance to grow long-term. The games are not supposed to be
called with 50 seconds left due to unsportsmanlike conduct.
In another ninth-week game that was called in, the coach reporting the game struggled to find a name of the kicker of a late touchdown because the regular kicker for a team had been kicked out of the game.
Then there's South throwing the ball for a touchdown with less than a minute to play when it had the game won, and how that touchdown was a sixth passing TD of the game that went into the books as a Western New York record-breaker.
Any box score from any point of the season that
included a passing touchdown with 50 seconds left would raise my
eyebrows. I've called out teams before for passing with big leads in the fourth quarter. Maybe it's me.
I had an interesting discussion with some very trusted, very intelligent sports copy editors at work and they had no problem with the late touchdown. It was only a 14-point game, not a 40-point game, they said. Let them go for the record, they said.
What do you think they should have done, my coworkers asked. I suppose I think that with a 14-point lead and less than a minute to play in the game, South should have been running the ball, first game or ninth game, first down or fourth down, record or no record.
But I certainly could be wrong, and there's a space below where I'm sure some people will tell me so.
Here are some additional notes on the eighth-graders as well as notes on all sorts of cross country topics:
* * *
Among the top 18 at the 15-team Bemus Point Invitational were more eighth graders (five) than seniors (four).
Caroline Benson of Maple Grove won the race, while two other fellow eighth-graders were teammates … Emma Verdonik (fifth) and Abby Sirwatka (18th). Falconer's Kirsten Holmberg was third and Fredonia's Micaela Tramuta was 11th.
* * *
Kiki Dy is an accomplished swimmer who came to the Newfane program from field hockey, while Sarah Ziemba and twins Kelly and Kate Bocknewetch all excelled in modified track and cross country last year.
Dy "fell into our lap," said Newfane coach Mike Heitzenrater. "Because of the way our league is run in swimming, with the girls competing in the winter, she could never qualify for states. So she said, "I want to do cross country and get to the states.' "
The youngsters have meshed well with senior Bethany Dewey and juniors Erin Hannah and Amy Lanighan.
It may have helped that Newfane had a significant amount of spots to fill in its lineup after graduating much of its team last year.
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.
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.
Lauren Nicole Mariacher joined The News in 2009 after graduating from the Columbia University School of Journalism. The Elma native and Iroquois graduate can usually be found on a sideline, capturing highlights for PrepTalkTV. She also hosts Prep Talk's weekly live show, with Keith McShea, as well as The News' live postgame Bills show — [BN]TheHuddle.