ORCHARD PARK - Twelve teams are headed to Ralph Wilson Stadium this weekend to battle for a Section 6 title. For 10 of those teams, the games are merely stepping stones towards a greater glory.
For the other two, this is it.
When Clymer (7-1), the No. 3 seed, and Ellicottville (6-2), the top seed, square off on the Buffalo Bills' home turf on Saturday at 10 a.m. for a Class DD sectional crown, there will be no tomorrow. The victor will not move on to the Far West Regional or, later, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association final four in Syracuse.
Clymer coach Dave Bodamer, right, wouldn’t mind having former Pirates’ running back Jehuu Caulcrick in his backfield on Saturday when his team takes on Ellicottville in the Section 6 Class DD championship game. They were chatting at media day at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Wednesday.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
No, for these two squads, it all comes down to one final test; one final game at ''The Ralph.''
And that's just the way they like it.
"We appreciate the opportunity, we (the schools of Class DD) chose to be in this situation," Clymer coach Dave Bodamer said. "We're not stupid, we know that if we were playing Maple Grove or Randolph or any of those teams (during the regular season), we're probably not even looking at the playoffs.
"(With this setup), we're not missing games and we've got a chance to go to 'The Ralph.'"
It's a chance that the Pirates, in particular, are not taking lightly.
Since winning the Class D crown in 2002, Clymer has lost in each of its last two sectional title game appearances - the first suffered in 2008 to eventual state champion Maple Grove and the second last season to Chautauqua Lake. It's a history that doesn't need to be discussed, Bodamer notes, because his group is already well aware. What's more, the team's actions in the preceding weeks have shown him they don't intend to lose for a third time.
"School was canceled (on Tuesday due Hurricane Sandy), but we still held a voluntary workout," Bodamer said, "and everybody was there. Even kids who had work made it. So the focus is really good, the excitement is there and they just really want to play football.
"Seniors know this is their last game. In football you only get so many games in a career, compared to basketball or baseball, so they aren't wasting time."
If the last time these two teams met is a likely sign of what's to come on Saturday, it should be a hard-nosed, down-to-the-wire battle with the rushing attack of each at the forefront of the strategy for victory.
In that early season meeting, Clymer, coming off a tough, opening-season loss to Sherman, was still reeling for much of the contest as the Eagles took a 14-0 lead into the fourth quarter. But a punt block by Tom Heiser set up a score and the Pirates managed to rally for 20 unanswered points and capture the victory in overtime.
Since then, Bodamer's bunch has won seven straight.
"That was no doubt a big part of the season," Bodamer said of the comeback. "I told the kids at halftime that going 0-2 could mean the end of the season because our league is so competitive. It was a big one for us. We started making plays. Instead of being hit, we delivered some hits. We finally started playing some good football."
That "good football" has since included a ground game - led by Jake Wiggers and Connor Payne, among others - that has averaged a whopping 266 yards per game.
Ellicottville, meanwhile, immediately bounced back from the loss and put together a similarly solid run. The Eagles have won five of their last six, the only loss coming to non-league St. Mary's of the Monsignor Martin League.
Key to that run has been junior running back Phalla Musall, who though listed at just 5-foot-4 and 140 pounds, has rushed for over 200 yards in three of his last four games.
"He is an explosive kid and he's not afraid to take a hit," Bodamer said. "Every time he touches the ball he could be gone, so that definitely has our attention."
Though Bodamer notes that the Eagles have the ability to throw the ball as well with quarterback Cam Wilson, that doesn't mean they plan to tinker with their stout defense, which has surrendered a league-low 96 points thus far.
"We take a lot of pride in our defense," he said. "So do we specifically plan to do anything different? No. We've just got to play every play."
Given the high-stakes nature of the game, all-out effort every play shouldn't be a problem - for either team.