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Frontier gets by O.P. to reach first title game since 1984

Frontier wasn’t just facing the demons of its own past; the Falcons also were 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 a bunch 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.

AJ Licata is one of the team’s seniors who had the dream of a sectional title since he was a football player in the seventh grade. He and many of his teammates, since back in those days, adopted the motto of “every play, every day,” in making a conscious effort to build toward eventually reaching that 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 Friday (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 fiery 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.”

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 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 grass, broke a few tackles, found his blocks and then shot down the right sideline nearly 70 yards for the score.

The junior tailback and defensive back is getting used to making big plays. Among them this season, he also picked off his fourth pass of the season to stop a drive in overtime during Frontier’s 27-21 win over 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 team puts into its special teams. Frontier scored 10 points on special teams, also including a 35-yard field goal and two successful extra points from Adrian Cannon, who continued to boom his punts and kickoffs.

“I don’t think anyone else works special teams as much as we do,” said Myslinski, a proud former special teams coordinator, himself. “We put a lot of time into it.”

Trailing 14-7, Orchard Park pinned the Falcons deep in their own territory late in the third quarter and got the ball back at the Frontier 48 after forcing a three-and-out. However, a fumbled exchange and 15-yard penalty pushed the Quakers backwards.

Frontier forced a quick punt and after getting the ball back with good field position, drove down the field to the Orchard Park 12. The drive ended with that Cannon field goal, pushing the Falcons lead to 10, with about five minutes left in the game.

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 a little more than a minute to play before the celebration officially began.

“It was incredible,” Licata said of 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 over 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 one 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. The sizeable and tough-running 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 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 a Brandon Wilczewski interception. Also on defense, Frontier’s Rocco Russo and Orchard Park’s Jason Dolce 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.


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