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Lyndonville Tigers linebacker Joey Suhr, left, tries to stop Lockport Rage running back P.J. Harris on Saturday at Roy-Hart High in the 2007 NYAFL opener for both teams.

For three quarters, the New York Amateur Football League’s newest team, the Lockport Rage, went toe-to-toe with the league’s defending champions, the Lyndonville Tigers, and were still standing.

Trailing by just 3-0 in a see-saw 2007 league opener for both teams on Saturday night, the Rage had held their own against one of the league’s elite franchises.

But then came the decisive fourth quarter as injuries to several key Lockport players, mounting penalties and the rushing of Lyndonville’s Brandon Munson ultimately took their toll in a 24-7 Tigers victory under the lights at Royalton-Hartland High School.

A crowd estimated at 400 enjoyed the game in almost perfect weather conditions at Roy-Hart’s Bruno Picini Field. A slight breeze blew in from the southwest, which only slightly affected the kicking game.

Munson rushed for 174 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries, including 127 in the first half alone, as the Tigers racked up 266 yards total on the ground.

“We had a lot of guys filling in at positions they normally don’t play, especially later in the game,” said Rage back-up quarterback Jerry “Honeybun” Smith, who scored his team’s only touchdown on a one-yard sneak late in the fourth quarter. John Granchelli booted the Rage extra point.

“We’re going to need to be better conditioned the rest of the season than we were today. We need to play four complete quarters, instead of just three. We had a lot of guys sucking wind there at the end. That’s definitely one area we can improve on.”

Following a scoreless, though well-played first quarter, the Tigers got on board early in the second as kicker Kyle Piccirilli split the uprights from 30 yards out to give the host Tigers a 3-0 lead.

The turning point in the game for both teams came late in the third quarter, when Rage linebacker Isiah Johnson leveled Tigers quarterback Donnell Hollaway, causing a fumble, which was recovered by Rage linebacker Will Stiles. After driving deep into Tigers territory on the legs of running back P.J. Harris, a false start penalty proved costly as kicker John Granchelli’s 41-yard field goal attempt into the wind was blocked.

Meanwhile, with Hollaway hurting, the Tigers shifted wide receiver Ricky McVay to quarterback, who then promptly marched his team into the end zone on consecutive scoring drives to break the contest open.

McVay ran the option to perfection, pitching right to Munson who scampered 28 yards for the game’s first touchdown with 14:34 left in the game. The Rage, with Smith taking over for injured starter Lamont Rhim, went three and out on their next series. McVay made them pay moments later, rolling to his left and tossing an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike Bond to give the Tigers a 17-0 lead with 8:46 left.

“It took us a while to get going, but we finally got Ricky where he needed to be. He can make things happen,” said Tigers owner and head coach Harold Suhr.

Smith plowed up the middle for the Rage’s only score with 4:15 left on the clock, but the Tigers answered back on Joel Fidanza’s 21-yard TD run with 2:20 left.

“Defensively we played pretty good,” said Tigers linebacker Joey Suhr, who had two interceptions. “We made the adjustments we needed to make.” Joe Sands added two blocked field goals for Lyndonville.

The Rage mustered just 108 yards rushing, but found success through the air. Rhim was 8-for 13 passing for 86 yards and one interception. Smith finished 1-for-5 passing for eight yards and an interception. Lockport’s leading rusher was Harris with 42 yards on six carries.

“You have to hand it to Lyndonville. But I’m proud of our guys holding them to 3-0 lead in the fourth quarter,” Stiles said.

“You can’t ask for anything more than that in our first game as the league’s newest team against the league champions.”

Next up, the Rage will take on the Buffalo Gladiators at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Exchange Field at Outwater Park. The Tigers have a bye week, then will host the Gladiators at 7:30 p.m. July 21 at Roy-Hart.

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