By John D'Onofrio
Niagara Gazette — In a rock'em, sock'em tale of two halves, two of Western New York's finest football teams slugged it out Saturday afternoon in a memorable high school football game that easily surpassed the high expectations stapled to it.
Visiting St. Joe's, ranked second in Western New York according to the latest coach's poll, overcame an 11-point halftime deficit to outscore AA North-champion Lockport 23-7 the rest of the way and limped off with a hard-fought 30-25 victory on Senior Day at Max D. Lederer Field.
Two of the area's most productive, efficient and entertaining offenses and players racked up huge yards in an offensive showdown that featured three second-half lead changes and more than its share of big plays.
When the smoke cleared, Marauders senior tailback Ilo Noble finished with 213 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown and Lockport's Connolly Cup favorite, senior running back James Chambers, ran for a game-high 221 yards on 20 carries with three TDs.
The Lions (3-0 AA North, 4-2 overall) squandered promising leads of 10-0 early in the second quarter and 18-7 at the half as the Marauders regrouped at intermission under third-year head coach Dennis Gilbert.
“We made some adjustments defensively and got people into the right spots,” Gilbert said. “We just weren't focused in the first half, so we settled them down and tried to keep things simple the rest of the way.”
Early on, it was all blue and gold as the Chambers hit a hole and scampered 48 yards to pay dirt in the first quarter. Senior Kyle Few's extra point and 32-yard field goal moments later gave Lockport a 10-0 lead 10 seconds into the second quarter.
That fired up the Marauders, who picked up the pace and marched 80 yards on six plays to get on the scoreboard.
“It was pretty cool playing against so many people that I know — a lot of fun,” said St. Joe's junior running back Nigel Davis, of Lockport, whose 4-yard, second-quarter TD run and junior Brandon Belles extra point kick cut the Lions lead to 10-7. “We never felt we were out of the game. We always felt a comeback was manageable.”
Chambers' 13-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter helped give the hosts an 18-7 lead at halftime, but not before Lions junior quarterback Dan Bronson (4-for-7, 33 yards) scooped up a low snap on the PAT try and scrambled, finding junior Malik Harden for a two-point conversion pass.
It was all St. Joe's in the third quarter as Noble rumbled in from four yards out, then St. Joe's junior quarterback Dennis Gilbert (4-for-9, 43 yards, TD) tossed a 26-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Tyshawn Stepney, who did a great job tip-toeing the sideline and breaking tackles to get into the endzone. A two-point conversion pass on the second score from Gilbert to junior receiver Tyler Hill, of Newfane, gave the Marauders their first lead of the game, 21-18.
The Lions responded with a big kickoff return from senior Will Diebel to midfield and a five-play drive to the endzone. Chambers burst left on a 27-yard TD run and Few's PAT gave the Lions their final lead, 25-21, early in the fourth quarter.
But the Marauders promptly marched 87 yards on eight plays, capped by junior Rodrick Payne's (115 yards, 14 carries, TD) 38-yard TD run, and Belles' PAT gave St. Joe's the lead for good, 28-25. A high snap on a Lions' fourth down punt deep in their own territory on their next possession sailed out of the endzone for a two-point safety, rounding out the scoring.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said Lions head coach Greg Bronson. “I thought Payne and Noble did a good job running the ball for them. It was tough trying to defend both. But this is why we scheduled this game and the game against Orchard Park earlier this year because we want to prove we can play with the best teams for four full quarters and I think we did that again.”
Sophomore linebacker Cordell Owens led St. Joe's defensively with eight tackles and a sack. Senior linebacker Dylan Hall also had eight stops and a sack and Hill added six tackles. Senior Jerrod Robinson led the Lions with 10 tackles.
GAME NOTES — Broadcasting the game live on sjci.com was the always entertaining Paul Nasca, along with St. Joe's veteran basketball coach Mark Simon as the color commentator … Honored before the game along with their parents on Senior Day at the Max were Lockport's Cody Mitravich, Mike Kerrissey, Kyle Few, Joe Pinzel, Colin Seiler, R.D. Hillman, Will Diebel, James Chambers, Jerrod Robinson, Mitchell Evans, Seth Anderson, Evan Aloisio, Stephano Anzalone, Sam Nowak, Tom Furlong, Ron Hillman, Khari Demos, Tyler Dimsey, Tevye Maslowski and Zach Dewey … St. Joe's won the JV contest, 40-0.