Friday November 8, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
GATORADE SHOWER — Senior Ryan Harvey (right), along with teammate Kevin Hamilton, douse coaches Tim Myslinski, Mark Privateer and Jim Steffen, after Frontier’s Stadium-clinching win last Friday at Frontier. Photo courtesy of Jake French.
Frontier wasn’t just facing the demons of its own past; the Falcons were also up against a Western New York football power in Orchard Park, which has given them more trouble than any other team, over the years.
While Orchard Park has been racking up sectional titles and going on state runs, Frontier was struggling through nearly three decades of being unable to measure up to the league’s best teams.
But this year’s Frontier football team consists of dreamers who, since their modified and youth playing days, have been envisioning a sectional title and backing it up with their play at each increasing level.
A.J. Licata is one of the team’s seniors who said he has dreamed about a sectional title since he was a seventh-grade football player. Since those days, he and many of his teammates have adopted the motto of “every play, every day,” in making a stated effort of building toward eventually reaching that ultimate goal.
The senior will finally get the chance to play for a title. Frontier defeated Orchard Park 17 – 7 on a muddy home field in the semifinal round on Nov. 1, to advance to the Class AA final, a place the program has not been since winning the Section VI title in 1984.
The Falcons will get a rematch with Jamestown in the championship game on Saturday, Nov. 9, after the Red Raiders blew by Kenmore West in Class AA’s other semifinal. Frontier had won a playoff game for the first time in 28 seasons last year, before being eliminated by Jamestown in the 2012 semifinals.
“We’re living that dream right now,” said Licata, Frontier’s linebacker, who leads the team in tackles. “Hopefully, we can go in there and come out with a win.”
“All last year, we were the underdog and it was the greatest feeling in the world [to succeed],” he added. “This year was a little bit of higher expectations; we just thought about what we had to do and had our hard hats on and went to work.”
Frontier not only advanced to The Ralph for the first time in 29 years, but also defeated Orchard Park for the first time in about the same time period.
“That’s a big weight on your shoulders, playing Orchard Park,” said Frontier head coach Tim Myslinski, who admitted to being sick to his stomach with pre-game jitters. “We haven’t beaten them in a long time. Before the game ... I just looked around and saw the guys and I said, ‘I believe in you’ and they said, ‘Coach, we believe in you.’ That gave me a little punch in the face to wake up and realize that we got this.”
TACKLE — Vinny Pupo wraps up Deesean Walker in Frontier\'s win. Photo by Anne Licata.
Paul Brinkel scored what would be the game-winning touchdown on a 80-yard punt return, to put Frontier up 14-7 with 3:02 left in the third quarter.
Myslinski said that, with Orchard Park punting inconsistently, he dropped back two returners. Brinkel added he and fellow returner Ricky Fitzgerald prepared a plan for what direction they’d go, if either were to field the punt. Brinkel took the ball off the muddy ground, broke a few tackles, found his blocks and then shot down the right sideline 80 yards, for the score.
The junior tailback and defensive back is getting used to making the plays. Among them, he picked off his fourth pass of the season, to stop a drive in overtime, during Frontier’s 27 – 21 win against Lockport, in the quarterfinal round.
“We knew this was our year to get [to the final],” Brinkel said. “We knew if we made a few plays, our defense would get us through this game so we could get there, and now, it’s all about getting ready for Jamestown.”
Myslinski credited the work the Falcons puts into their special teams. Frontier scored 10 points on special teams, also including a 35-yard field goal from Adrian Cannon, which pushed the lead to 10 points with about five minutes left in the game. Cannon also made both his PATs and continued to boom punts and kickoffs.
“I don’t think anyone else works special teams as much as we do,” said Myslinski, a former special teams coordinator, himself. “We put a lot of time into it.”
Trailing by 10, Orchard Park drove down to the Falcons’ 5, but Frontier once again held, on four straight plays in a goal line situation. Frontier took over with about a minute to play, before the celebration officially began.
“It was incredible,” Licata said, about the defensive effort, which included his 11 tackles and two sacks. “The boys just flew around to the ball, and it was all about the team. Even if we were a little out of it on a play, we just flew to the ball and it didn’t even matter.”
Frontier kept in check a Quakers’ offense that had scored an average of 37 points during the past three games and won five of their last six contests. In its only loss during that span, Orchard Park still scored 41 points against Jamestown, as it fell by 1 point.
“We knew, the past few weeks, OP has been really sparking on offense; we knew they scored a lot against Jamestown,” Brinkel said. “All week we’ve been focusing on their pass. We practiced hard all week. And it showed on the scoreboard at the end of the game.”
Orchard Park took the early lead, capitalizing on a Frontier turnover, as Desean Walker ran for a 16-yard touchdown on the first play, after the Quakers recovered a fumble. Walker finished with 57 yards on 13 carries, but rushed only three times in the second half.
The Falcons tied the game 7 – 7 on the first play of their late first quarter drive, when senior fullback Kenny Kahler used a quick burst to bust up the middle for a 45-yard score.
Frontier controlled the time of possession in the first half, reaching Orchard Park territory to the 32-, 16- and 13-yard-line on its other three drives, respectively, but came up empty on each. Right before the half, with Frontier’s driving, Orchard Park’s Jonathan McCarthy sacked Tyler Gaglia, forcing time to expire.
Early in the second half, Frontier ended an Orchard Park drive deep inside Falcons’ territory, with Brandon Wilczewski’s interception. Frontier’s Rocco Russo and Orchard Park’s Jason Dolce also recorded a sack. Frontier’s senior back Cam Coon finished with 86 yards on 18 carries and Gaglia added 12 carries for 58 yards.
The Class AA final will be part of a four-game championship slate at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Saturday. The Frontier-Jamestown game will start 7 p.m.
“Jamestown is a great team and we’re going to go in there with our heads up, thinking we can win,” said Licata, who leads a group of players, that, for the last five or six years, would have it no other way.