By Mike Meiler firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — What might be the biggest high school football game in Western New York this weekend takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday at Masters Field when the Grand Island Vikings host the Sweet Home Panthers in a battle of unbeatens atop Section VI Class A North.
The Vikings (4-0, 3-0) have beaten Hamburg, North Tonawanda, Niagara-Wheatfield and Kenmore East despite dealing with injuries all season. The Panthers (4-0, 3-0) beat Iroquois, N-W, Starpoint and NT and own a 64-game winning streak against Sect. VI opponents, including six straight Class A titles.
GI last beat the Panthers in the 2005 Class A Championship at Ralph Wilson Stadium despite earning a reputation for playing them tough.
Viking head coach Dean Santorio said his players have been looking forward to the matchup.
“We consider every game a big game and you try to keep your players focused and keep their heads on straight, but sometimes you wonder where they’re at,” he said. “They know it’s a big game, and obviously they want to win it.”
The game represents a contrast of styles, as well. The Panthers are known for their speed and athleticism, while the Vikings excel at controlling the clock and moving the chains.
“We’re hoping to use our toughness to our advantage,” Santorio said. “Their speed is going to hurt you every year, and you can’t simulate that in practice.”
The Vikings are still without seniors Dominic Petrilli and Ben Goc, both lost for the year with injuries.
Niagara Falls at McKinley,7 p.m. tonight
The Wolverines (1-3, 1-3 AA) look to stay in the win column in this non-league game, which takes place at Riverside High School in Buffalo.
After scoring an upset over Lockport in last week’s home opener, NF will take on the high-flying Macks (4-0 A Central), who’ve scored an average of 29 points per game early this year.
The Niagara Falls defense has been a strength this season and picked off three passes against the Lions, one of which was returned for the winning touchdown by Daquarie Simmons early in the fourth quarter. Head coach Don Bass said tackling will be key.
“We can’t afford missed tackles,” Bass said. “We have to keep the contained. If we tackle well and keep them contained to the middle of the field, we should be okay on defense.”
Offensively, Bass said Daveon Cook will remain at quarterback. Jaylin Smith played under center against teams with big, tough defensive lines like Frontier and Lancaster, but Bass said he likes the matchup with Cook going against the athletic Macks.
Lew-Port at Medina/Lyndonville, 7:30 p.m. tonight
The Lancers (2-2, 1-2 B North) will try to recover from two tough losses and push for the playoffs against the division rival Mustangs (3-1, 2-1).
The top four teams from Class B North make the playoffs, and the Mustangs currently sit third while the Lancers are tied for fifth. L-P was outscored 67-14 in back-to-back losses to Burgard and Bennett, and head coach Jon Hoover said it won’t be easy to turn it around tonight.
“They might have the best quarterback (Jason Hellwig) we’ll see all year,” Hoover said. “He can throw, he can run, and they have some really good receivers that can catch the ball.
Starpoint at North Tonawanda, 7 p.m. tonight
Like Lew-Port, the Spartans (1-3, 1-2 A North) find themselves needing to win out to have a chance at the playoffs. A win last week over Nia.-Wheatfield kept its postseason hopes alive, and Starpoint will have to build a streak by beating the Lumberjacks (1-3, 0-3 A North).
After scoring just six points in its first three games, the Spartan offense hung 20 on the Falcons. Head coach Al Cavagnaro said he hopes the win put his team back on track.
“I think it gave us some confidence,” Cavagnaro said. “We broke the seal, and I think our offense knows (it) can score again.”
Cavagnaro wouldn’t say if running back Evan Majewski (hamstring/ankle) or quarterback Sam Terrazzino (concussion) would play, but did say that Majewski hasn’t practiced this week and Terrazzino practiced Wednesday and Thursday but still had to clear the school’s concussion protocol.
Wilson at Tonawanda, 7:30 p.m. tonight
The Lakemen (0-4 C North) find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture, but a win over the Warriors (2-2 C North) could go a long way toward helping with the postseason push.
Head coach Bill Atlas said Wilson has yet to play its best football this season.
“(Tonawanda is) playing some pretty decent football,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to put together a complete game to be able to beat them.