By Mike Meiler firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Opening weekend of the 2013 high school season features a doozy of a game, when the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons host the Lewiston-Porter Lancers at 2 p.m. Saturday in what was once one of Niagara County’s great football rivalries.
The yearly matchup stalled when the two schools changed divisions, but the former N-W coach Jim Hagerty rekindled the competitive fire two years ago when he called the Lew-Port athletic department to attempt to renew the rivalry.
“We didn’t play them for a few years, which was too bad because it’s a natural rivalry,” L-P coach Jon Hoover said. “Because our borders touch, there’s always a constant interaction. Some of our guys’ parents work with the parents of Wheatfield kids. It’s a great rivalry and everybody is really excited about it.”
When the arrangement was made, both programs were struggling, coming off one-win seasons in 2011. Hoover said they agreed to bring back the rivalry in an effort to raise excitement.
The Lancers look to have turned their fortunes around, going 6-3 in 2012. The Falcons’ struggles continued as they went 0-8, but the game will represent the first under new coach Brent Tylec, who replaced Hagerty this offseason.
“Wheatfield is Wheatfield,” said Hoover, himself a N-W grad. “Even if they’ve had a couple of down years, they always have tough kids that know the game and play hard and want to win. That’s what the program has been about for years and years. We’re not taking them lightly at all.”
Niagara Falls at Jamestown, 7 p.m. tonight
The elimination of division in Class AA means that the Wolverines will have to compete with the ultra-competitive teams from southern Section VI, starting with their opening game against the Red Raiders.
The Wolverines have speed to burn, which can be both good and bad against the southern teams, which are known more for their size and toughness.
Niagara Falls coach Don Bass said the Red Raiders will be a great test for opening weekend.
“They have some skill guys, but we can match skills with anybody,” Bass said. “It’s up front where the game will be won and it’s where they’ll have the size advantage.
“Naturally, if they have a size advantage, we’re going to have to push to the edges a little bit more to get them moving.”
Defensively, Bass said his unit has been exceptional in its ability to swarm to the ball, something that can help against any perceived size advantage.
“Our speed matches anybody, and we’ve been attacking more this year,” he said. “I like where we’re heading.”
The Wolverines lost last year’s meeting after a flooded Sal Maglie Stadium caused the game to be moved to Jamestown.
Wilson at Akron, 7 p.m. tonight
Like Niagara Falls, the Lakemen will open with a league game when they face their longtime Class C North foe.
Wilson coach Bill Atlas said the teams are a lot alike, which should lead to a tight game.
“Our programs are very, very similar, and it seems like we always have good games,” Atlas said. “We beat them by one score last year, and they won the (junior varsity) game 6-0.”
Atlas said he’ll look to maintain balance on offense early on, while his defense will be forced to focus on speedy running back Austin Lauricella.
“He’s one of their best athletes, so they’re going to try to get him the ball as much as possible,” Atlas said. “They’re always well coached and tough to beat.”
Grand Island at Hamburg, 7 p.m. tonight
Coach Dean Santorio’s Vikings will face their first test of the season in a non-league game against a physical team that likes to control the line of scrimmage.
“We saw their linemen at a camp over the summer, and they’re going to be a physical football team,” Santorio said. “They have a number of returning linemen, and their linemen were physical at camp. They’re going to be a good team.”
The Bulldogs finished 2-7 in 2012 and have a new head coach in Pat Cauley. The Vikings haven’t faced them in two seasons, which Santorio said makes forming a gameplan difficult.
“All we have to go on is a little bit from a scrimmage,” Santorio said. “The key will still be to execute and establish ourselves up front.”
Starpoint at Lockport, 2 p.m. Saturday
Another local rivalry game takes place early when the Spartans travel to face the Lions in a non-league game.
This will be the fifth straight season the teams face off in friendly rivalry set up by Starpoint coach Al Cavagnaro and Lockport head Greg Bronson. The Spartans won the opener but have dropped the last three against the Class AA Lions.
“They’re twice our size, but you know what, it’s a fun game,” Cavagnaro said. “I’ve known Greg since he was 13 or 14 years old, and a lot of the kids played together in little league. Lockport didn’t have a rival, and we really didn’t really have one, so it made sense to start this up and get it going.”Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.