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Open Mike: Hamburg proves games are not won on paper

After a week six loss — capping a promising but disappointing division season that had Hamburg again on the outside looking in for the playoffs — Pat Cauley promised that, if anything, his team would be ready for Frontier the next week.

What could have been solely interpreted as typical coach speak turned out to be much more telling for the Oct. 18 regular season finale.

On paper, things looked bleak for Hamburg. The Bulldogs went into a road game at Frontier as a 2 – 4 team and losers of the past six of seven games against the rival Falcons. Hamburg was also facing a 5 – 1 team that had outscored fellow large school opponents 186 – 44.

But, in proving one of the oldest clichés true, that’s why the game is played on the field and not on paper. There are not many teams as prepared and hungry as Hamburg was, from the first whistle.

Although the result was a major surprise to some, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Hamburg was a play or two away from being a playoff team itself. The Bulldogs lost to Class A South’s top teams by a combined 8 points, falling to West Seneca East 10 – 7 and South Park 18 – 13.

They also lost a 14 – 6 heartbreaker as well to Hutch Tech in a game in which they suffered the first of two quarterback injuries, during the course of the season. By the game against Frontier, Hamburg was starting its third-string QB in junior Tom Coyne.

“We were going to come ready. You knew we were going to come ready,” Cauley said, emphatically. “This is a game of ‘if only’ and there’s a lot of plays out there that, if we only could have made, we would have been moving on. But we’ve got good opponents left in the bowl series and we’re going to play football.”

Coyne walked off the field thanking original backup Andrew Suchan for all that the fellow junior did, in helping him prepare for the game. Suchan stepped in to start from week three to six, winning two of those games. His assisting the next guy up shows this team’s togetherness and resolve.

And that was even after Cauley joked that he told Suchan the Wally Pipp story. Not feeling well, Pipp was given a day off, in favor of legendary Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig, who took advantage of the opportunity and began, that day, his 2,130 game consecutive start streak.

The performances of youngsters such as junior Mitch Gomolka, who ran for 187 yards and a score, and classmate Mark Myles, who also scampered for a long touchdown, help provide even more reason for hope and optimism.

The defense, as Gomolka said afterward, played its best game of the season, forcing three turnovers and not allowing any points from Frontier’s offense. The Falcons scored their lone TD on defense.

“They deserved this,” Cauley said, after his team’s win. “There were a lot of times, during this season, where the kids could have said, ‘I’ve had enough of listening to that old man, and he’s on us all the time and telling us it’s going to happen.’ Well, it happened, maybe a little late, but it did. We’re going to be a football team. We have good coaches, good players and a supportive community with great parents.”

Now, there feels to be promise for a Hamburg football program whose varsity team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, the same season the new Howe Field, with turf and lights, opened. Mix in consecutive seasons with a quality junior varsity team, and the Bulldogs must certainly be considered on the up.

While Frontier heads off into the Class AA playoffs as a well-deserved two seed, despite the non-league loss to Hamburg, the Bulldogs will play in the Chuck Funke Memorial Bowl Consolation series, which usually doesn’t elicit too much excitement, but the Oct. 24 game with the right to move on to the final on the line presents an intriguing matchup at Hamburg.

Coming to town for the evening game will be a Lake Shore team that can boast similar promise to Hamburg. With a large group of underclassmen’s contributing, the Eagles have handily won three straight after opening the season 0 – 4. One of those losses was to Hamburg, and head coach Drew Takacs said his team is eager to see its local rival again.

If the Bulldogs are not careful, the Eagles could do to them what they just did to Frontier.
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