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High School Football: Springboard season for Falcons ends in semis

Ben Koch and Frontier had a memorable building season for the program end in a Class AA semifinal loss at Jamestown. (Photo by Ron Larson)

Frontier came quite a ways in erasing much of the doubt previous teams may have experienced in the past two to three decades since the heyday of the program in the early to mid 1980s. However, the Falcons aren’t quite where they would like to be just yet.

That was proven in a 42-14 loss in the Class AA semifinal on Friday (Oct. 26) to Jamestown, who pulled away in the fourth quarter starting with a game-changing interception that was returned almost the length of the field the other way for a touchdown. The Falcons had just come off winning a playoff game for the first time in 28 seasons the week before.

They played with plenty of confidence in Friday’s road playoff game, tying the game at 14 apiece before halftime and entering the fourth quarter down only one score and deep inside Jamestown territory, but the Raiders’ big play ability and experience made all of the difference in the end.

Jamestown, the defending sectional finalists, ran off 28 unanswered points in the second half, three of those touchdowns were scored in the fourth quarter. So, while the score may not have been a true reflection of how the game was played, Frontier head coach Tim Myslinski realized it showed that his team still has some work ahead.

“These guys got us here and took us further than we’ve been since 1984; there is that building block, but now there are more expectations,” said Frontier’s third-year head coach, whose team finished the season 6-3 and have now made the playoffs two of the past three seasons after a 25-year postseason drought.

“I told them to look at that score (up on the scoreboard) and remember it when you’re on that squat rack (in the offseason),” he added. “It’s a springboard (for the program). Anything less than this from here will be unacceptable.”

The game’s momentum shifted in Jamestown’s favor when athletic linebacker Mike Watson intercepted a Ben Koch pass in front of the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the six-yard-line and returned it about 98 yards for a touchdown on just the second play of the fourth quarter.

From there, Frontier couldn’t get much going, fumbling the ball away once deep inside its own territory, and Jamestown scored on its final two possessions.

“There’s no better feeling than knowing you basically iced the game for your team,” Watson said. “I saw the quarterback dropping back to pass and their third receiver coming down so I dropped into coverage. We’ve been preaching all week that you just have to finish on defense — that’s what is going to win games. I dropped back, caught the ball and there was nothing that was going to stop me.”

Jamestown had taken a 21-14 lead on the second play from scrimmage on the strength of Da’Quan Hollingsworth’s third touchdown of the game, this one his longest, a 57-yarder.

Still down by only seven late in the third quarter, Frontier came up with a critical stop of a Jamestown drive and junior AJ Licata blocked a punt, which classmate Brandon Wilceski picked up and took 40 yards to the Raiders’ eight. Jamestown’s Connor Anderson came up with a touchdown-saving tackle, which would become even more significant with the game turning four plays later.

After a first-and-goal run only went two yards, Frontier got away from the option and dropped back to throw three straight plays. Anderson sacked Koch on second down back to the Jamestown 10 and after a three-yard completion to Kahler to set up fourth-and-goal from the seven, Frontier had little other choice but to throw on what was a prepared Raiders’ defense.

Myslinski said he felt somewhat unsure of his play call and nearly called a timeout before fourth down, but decided against it.

“We were down there and we had to get out of our comfort zone (throwing the ball with regularity),” he said. “We were running option and we were successful. It probably wasn’t the best call by me. There was another play I wanted to call but didn’t. But the kids also have to make plays, and the wrong color jersey made that play.”

The athleticism of Hollingsworth was on display for much of the game. The small speedster, who has exploited most of the teams he’s played against this season, finished with 193 yards and also scored on 48- and five-yard runs to put Jamestown in the lead, 14-0, in the first quarter. In addition, he ran another one in from 57 yards out that was called back on a holding.

“I just saw a lot of green field ahead and kicked into top speed and hit the burners,” Hollingsworth said. “I say it every week, but I really couldn’t do it without my line. Frontier looked like they were putting seven men in the box, so we spread it out a little and it gave me a little more room to hit the hole. I hit the hole and committed to it.”

Hollingsworth had a similar game when the two teams met during the regular season, but Frontier was able to make enough offensive plays of its own to pull out a 35-28 win on its home field. It was the only game Jamestown has lost as it goes into a Class AA championship rematch with Orchard Park.

“We missed a few big tackles and (Hollingsworth) had a 48 and 57 yarder; big plays hurt us in the first game and hurt us again in the second, but every game you watch with that running back, he makes those plays. He’s a tremendous athlete,” Myslinski said. “They were spreading the field to run inside. It wasn’t anything we didn’t know. We had hats on the ball carrier; we just didn’t make tackles a couple of times.”

Also like that first game between the two, Frontier showed resiliency early on and this time, was able to bounce back from a 14-point deficit with consecutive touchdowns before the end of the first half.

Koch hit junior tailback Cameron Coon on a 44-yard touchdown pass with one second left in the opening quarter. The senior quarterback was being rushed on a blitz but got rid of the ball to a wide-open Coon who had slipped out of the backfield unnoticed.

Coon scored again 1:27 before halftime, this time on a one-yard run after Koch had led the team down the field with his legs, rushing four times for 27 yards. Adrian Cannon hit both of his extra point attempts. Koch led the team running 13 times for 78 yards. He connected with Coon through the air three times for 92 yards.

Also, the Falcons’ defense held Jamestown to just two first downs in the second quarter and forced three first half turnovers. Licata and Ryan Harvey recorded the interceptions, while Kevin Hamilton recovered a fumble on a key defensive play to strip Jamestown quarterback Jake Sisson from behind on a 52-yard run.

This time, Jamestown’s defense was able to make the critical stops throughout the second half. Watson said his coach, Tom Langworthy, and the coaching staff, simplified the defensive scheme and each player’s responsibilities.

The Raiders put the icing on the cake with a pair of rushing touchdowns from Cortland Haines as the hulking lineman, who is considered one of Western New York’s best at the position, went into the backfield as a fullback and at times, the quarterback in the shotgun.

“All week, we’ve been talking about getting back to The Ralph. I’m not going to say we knew we’d beat them because Frontier is a very good team, who played a tough game and gave it all they got, but we wanted it,” Hollingsworth said.

When speaking with his players after the game, Myslinski harkened back to his own college playing days as a linebacker when he missed a big tackle in his final game and conveyed to his players how he learned not to dwell on it, so that he could better enjoy the entire experience and what was accomplished.

While he hopes this game will drive the underclassmen for years to come, he wanted to make sure his players left with a positive feeling. After all, despite the semifinal loss, this was a monumental season for what was a success-starved program.

“I told the kids don’t let this define you; let the season define you,” he said. “Let those positive plays — not the missed tackles, define you as an individual.”


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