Niagara Gazette — When the Grand Island Vikings face Williamsville North today in the Section VI Class A football semifinals, they will officially be the home team. However, the downright damp and muddy conditions at Gene Masters Field prompted officials to reschedule the game, moving it from Saturday afternoon up to today at 5 p.m. and relocating the home field to Tonawanda’s Clinton H. Small Stadium.
It’s not the unfamiliar territory that concerns the Vikings. It’s their more familiar opponent, a Spartans team they played just two weeks ago. Although the Vikings prevailed, 30-15, they’re entering today with an appreciation that come playoff time, it’s a clean slate.
“I think you’re always worried that you’re playing a team a second time during the season now,” said Grand Island head coach Dean Santorio. “We have a lot of respect for them. We knew that going into our last game against them (Oct. 19) that we won. We won the game, 30-15, but the game was close throughout. They actually had a lead in the second quarter.”
Among the Spartans that Santorio singled out to praise was quarterback Ryan Majewski, a senior and three-year starter at Williamsville North. Poor weather conditions in their regular season matchup kept both teams relying more on a ground game. Majewski showed some of his passing skill in the first half of that game, finding Dean Thompson on a 52-yard touchdown play.
“They have one of the better receivers in the area, Kolbe Hughes, who’s a good athlete,” added Santorio. “They have a lot of complimenting athletes.”
Grand Island, meanwhile, has a more rested and healthy squad. That’s most welcomed by a Vikings team that spent considerable portions of the season banged up but still succeeding without some of its key players.
“Probably right now — other than Ben Goc and Dominic Petrilli who we lost for the season, which were big injuries for us and affected our team quite a bit — we’re probably as healthy as we’ve been, going into this game, with other guys that were out of the secondary and banged up,” said Santorio “We fell pretty good in that respect.”
Among the seniors Grand Island will rely on are quarterback Quinn Corrao, who was among the players banged up early in the season, and Paul Sukmanowski, who provides strong play on both offense and defense.
Those injuries plaguing Grand Island during the season, meanwhile, also created opportunities for younger players to step up from junior varsity and make significant impacts, including sophomore Jarod Brandon, whose performance against the Spartans Oct. 19 included a 59-yard touchdown run late in the game.
Grand Island is coming off a big win last week, a 23-0 shutout of McKinley High School at Riverside in Buffalo. The Vikings are the only remaining team in their part of Western New York to remain a Section VI playoff participant. All other nearby schools, including Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield, Lew-Port, Starpoint and Wilson played out their matchup games Wednesday with mixed results. Tonawanda will play their matchup game tonight. North Tonawanda’s season ended Wednesday with a win in the Chuck Funke Classic title game.
Do Viking players appreciate their status as a lone remaining contender?
“It’s funny, I think sometimes as players and kids they truly don’t think about that stuff a lot,” answered Santorio. “I think sometimes we (the coaches) might bring up something like that and talk about something like that but I think as kids they’ve got so many things going on in their lives, with schoolwork and getting to practice and getting ready for a game, I don’t even know if they think that.
“But we just kind of talk to them about our tradition at Grand Island, how successful our program’s been in the last 50 years, since Coach Masters started the program, and just how important it is to us to keep tradition alive and play good, solid hard-nosed Grand Island football.”game night Who: Williamsville North vs. Grand Island What: Section VI Class A football semifinal Where: Clinton H. Small Stadium, Tonawanda When: 5 p.m. kickoff