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Open Mike Column: Removing 'Frontier Doubt'

Ben Koch and Frontier gained a measure of confidence playing so close with Orchard Park a few weeks back. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

His team had just put forth the type of effort that would make any coach proud.

In one of the few occasions that a coach might be caught smiling after a loss, Tim Myslinski couldn’t help but take notice of all the good accomplished by his up-and-coming Frontier team after putting a major scare into Orchard Park, the state’s No. 1 ranked a team at the time.

The Falcons fell 27-10 on their home field a few weeks back in Week Four of the season, but trailed by only three points and had the ball and momentum late into the third quarter until a turnover that went the other way for a score began the unraveling of the young team.

Frontier had managed to prove it could play with what is considered one of the elite programs in Western New York, a two-time state champion and one that gives fellow Class AA teams around the area fits every year. The performance of Frontier left its players optimistic, but still there seemed to remain some doubt.

To be exact, Myslinski calls it “Frontier doubt.” It is something that not only has an effect on the program this season, but defines most teams since the last time the Falcons won a Section VI title in 1984.

Since then, wins against elite programs such as Orchard Park have been few and far between. In fact, winning seasons were nonexistent for almost two decades until now athletics director Rich Gray ended that in his first year as head coach in 2006 ­— the last winning season before that was going 4-3-1 in 1991. Then three seasons ago in 2010, Myslinski’s first year as head coach, the Falcons ended a playoff drought more than 25 years old.

Those teams produced four winning seasons since 2006 and had begun to turn the corner for the program, but Frontier still seemed to lack that signature win, so the doubt about whether they could play with the best of the best continues to linger into 2012.

This is where Myslinski hopes that type of doubt ends. His junior-laden team is working its way up the ranks this season at 4-2 and the junior varsity and freshman teams from last year combined to win all but two games (one loss and one tie). He’s also helped nurture a relationship with CSRA and Hamburg Little Loop representatives, which helps instill the high school philosophies and play calling into the coaches and youngsters starting at that level.

“I told (my team) that times are changing,” Myslinski said after the Orchard Park game. “You can’t have that doubt as a football team, because if you do that will bring you down. You can ask any coach, if you have anybody that doubts, even one or two people, just like enthusiasm, doubt spreads. I know they believe, but they always have to believe.”

That belief already seems apparent in the two games since the Orchard Park loss. The Falcons beat both Jamestown and Lancaster — two playoff teams last season, with late scores in challenging games in which many Frontier teams of the past may have wilted.

Frontier served up Jamestown’s only division loss this year in a shootout with a touchdown from their backup fullback with under a minute to play and then erased a nine-point deficit with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns in defeating Lancaster. By the way, Jamestown just upset O.P. this weekend and looks to be on its way to a division title going into the final week of the regular season.

“I think the O.P. game has set the tone for the season,” said senior quarterback Ben Koch after the 35-28 win over Jamestown.

Added junior Kevin Hamilton, who scored the winning touchdown that game, “When you play together as a team, this is what starts to happen.”

In trying to create a tradition at Frontier, who better to beat than Lancaster, which has one of the most storied histories of any football program in Western New York. “What a great opportunity it is for us to play them,” Myslinksi noted a week before the 22-16 win that has sent Frontier to the playoffs for only a second time in nearly three decades.

Could it be that Frontier has already started erasing the doubt that’s existed for so long among the Falcons? If opponents and traditionalists don’t want to recognize that and choose to keep looking at Frontier as they’ve done in the past, Myslinski said that’s fine. It will only add fuel to the fire of a program beginning to feel like it belongs among WNY’s best.

“I’ve played on a lot of teams since I started playing football as an eight-year-old,” said junior Cam Coon, who scored the game-winner against Lancaster. “But I’ve never been on a team that plays together as much as this one does.”


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