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Eden football wins to make playoffs fifth straight year

AIRING ONE OUT — Nick Sarratori threw only twice, as Eden ran for 343 yards, in beating Pioneer. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
During a stretch of playoff-qualifying seasons that was extended to five straight with a win on Oct. 19, the Eden football team has historically come up with a regular season win at an opportune time.

This year, there were a few performances that kept the playoff streak alive, although none were bigger than the 28 – 14 win against Pioneer in Saturday’s regular season finale.

Facing a win-and-in scenario, the Raiders jumped out to a 21 – 0 halftime lead and held on, to beat a team that had lost only once previously in Class B South play. Eden finished 3 – 3 in the division (4 – 3 overall), to capture the fourth and final playoff berth from B South.

The Raiders had also scored a 21 – 14 division win in week five against Olean, which they wound up beating out for the final playoff spot. Eden stumbled last week in a lopsided loss at Depew, setting up Saturday’s must-win situation.

“This is five straight years in the playoffs. Yeah, we’ve been finishing strong over the past several years,” said Eden head coach Chuck Tilley, who has led the Raiders to the playoffs in all five seasons in which he has been the head coach, despite most of those years, having one of the smallest rosters in the classification.

“This year, more than any of those other years, we’ve really had to battle through injuries and last week was just absolutely horrible for us,” he said. “So, to bounce back from a bad butting-kicking like that says a lot.”

Tilley was surprised just how well his team was able to run the ball on what he described as a tough and physical Pioneer team. The Raiders ground game produced 343 yards, led by senior Alex Smythe, who ripped off 228 of them on 33 carries and scored all 4 touchdowns. It was the third 200-yard game for the University at Buffalo-bound wrestler.

Eden also mixed in fellow senior wing-back Joe Tripi, who finished with 70 yards on 14 carries. Quarterback Nick Sarratori added 45 yards on the ground and connected on both of his pass attempts, the first a swing pass to Smythe, which wound up going the distance to paydirt 53 yards, just before halftime.

“It all starts with the line play-by-play, and we hit the holes hard,” Tripi said. “We have a lot of senior guys who stepped it up; we knew that’s what we needed to do. You don’t just have to have four leaders on the team; you can have everyone lead, and that’s what we did today.”

Smythe wound up running for scores of 18 and 2 yards in the first half, and then added a 15-yard TD.

Tripi said that these big moves from the senior are unsurprising. “Alex is a tank out there,” he said. “If you make the holes for him, he hits them hard. He’s a really good running back.”

Eden fumbled twice in the second half, the first leading to a touchdown early in the third quarter, as Pioneer cut the deficit to 21 – 7 on a Kris Riordan 8-yard run. Eden turned the field position and punched in another score on a Smythe run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Pioneer’s Tyler Mummery added a late 5-yard TD run.

Senior Garrett DiStefano returned from an injury, to lead the Eden defense with 12 tackles. Smythe added six, while Matt Lee recorded a sack and Connor Gallivan and Anthony Cummings shared a sack. The Eden defense held Pioneer to 7 yards, in the first half.

Despite Eden’s success in the regular season, it has experienced its hardships, during the playoffs. The Raiders will try to end a three-year playoff win drought in Class B, after making it to the C championship game in 2009.

Eden will travel to play at North division champion Cheektowaga, which is at 6 – 1. That matchup will be interesting for Tilley, who once coached the Warriors and remains a teacher at Cheektowaga. The forecast calls for rain on Friday and Tilley said he is hoping that comes to fruition, to help slow down some of the Warriors’ team speed.

“We turned the ball over twice against Pioneer and we can’t give Cheektowaga any gifts,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to pound the football like we’ve been doing. If we play smart and disciplined Eden Raider football, we have a shot, but they are explosive and, for me, it’s a tough game, because I have to play against my students. It’s never something I look forward to, but it’s something I have to do.”
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