SENIOR LEADERSHIP — Pictured, from left, Jonah Baldwin, Kyle Gibbons and Connor Gallivan are among 16 seniors leading Eden into a Class B semifinal. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
Seven days ago, the Eden football team was unsure if it would even be competing in the postseason. Now, the Raiders are headed to the second round of the playoffs.
Behind Alex Smythe’s 2-touchdown performance, Eden, the fourth-seeded team coming out of the Class B South, went to Cheektowaga (6 – 2) and defeated North’s No. 1 seed 23 – 12, to advance to the Class B semifinals.
With a playoff spot on the line, Eden (5 – 3) saw the return of some starters and defeated Pioneer 28 – 14 on Oct. 19, to clinch a postseason berth and a shot at the Class B North champions.
“It was a matter of us getting healthy,” said Eden coach Chuck Tilley, a teacher at Cheektowaga Central School. “When this team is healthy and focused, we’re a tough team to beat.”
The coach said that Smythe has been the workhorse all season long, but especially during the last two weekends, in which he’s scored 5 touchdowns in the last six days, in a pair of Eden victories.
In the quarterfinal matchup at Cheektowaga, Smythe immediately popped an 80-yard kickoff return, before rushing for the two-point conversion, to give the Eden team an early 8 – 0 lead.
“Just running down there and getting my team pumped up ... that was definitely the biggest play of the first half,” said Smythe, who rushed for 228 yards and scored three times against Pioneer. “It got them all jacked up and ready to roll.”
Eden missed an opportunity to extend the early lead, when a botched kickoff looked more like an onside kick that the Raiders recovered. With the momentum on the team’s side, a bad snap later in the drive ended its hope of further capitalizing.
Cheektowaga responded on its first drive of the night. Tim Whelan found Robert Pulley up the sideline and in the endzone for a 19-yard score, to make it a 8 – 6 game, with 2:25 left in the first quarter, but that was as close as the Warriors would get.
Kyle Gibbon’s 25-yard field goal midway through the second quarter extended Eden’s lead to 5 points, an advantage it would take into halftime.
Eden’s senior quarterback Nick Sarratori rushed for a score in the third quarter, to go up 11 in the third, before Cheektowaga responded a minute later, when Whelan connected with Dillenburg for 38 yards for a touchdown, to cut the Warriors’ deficit to 17 – 12.
Eden turned the ball over on downs inside the redzone twice in the fourth, but Smythe punched it in from the 1-yard line on the third opportunity, to put the game away.
The ground-and-pound with Smythe was the name of the game for Eden, this week. The Raiders said that they were hoping to maintain time of possession on their side to keep the ball away from the playmakers of Cheektowaga.
“Cheektowaga is very good, and they’re very fast, and they negate a lot of things we wanted to do offensively, so we had to be more simplistic,” Tilley said. “We wanted to play keep away, because I did not want the ball in the hands of [Marshawn Gibson and Preston Summers] very much.”
Eden’s run continues into next week, as it will play at Depew, Class B’s No. 2 seed, on Friday in the semifinals.