Snyder, Blecha, Pope Off To Fast Starts As High School Football Season Reaches Week 4
Cole Snyder’s first offensive play of the season was a 70-yard touchdown pass to Alex Card in Southwestern’s 31-14 win over Chautauqua Lake in Week 1 of the season.
Not a bad start for the junior who was a New York State Sportswriters Association Class C Second-Team All-State selection last year as a sophomore.
Snyder’s connection with Card was just the first of a number of big plays made by a trio of local quarterbacks in the opening three weeks of the season.
Senior Devin Pope of Chautauqua Lake, senior Brock Blecha of Franklinville/Ellicottville and Snyder have combined for 1,437 yards, 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions through the air to go along with 515 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground as their teams are a combined 8-1.
Even more impressive: all three play nearly every snap for their teams with Snyder lining up at defensive end for the Trojans, Blecha playing middle linebacker for the Titans and Pope playing safety for the Thunderbirds.
For Snyder, his success comes as no surprise to Southwestern head coach Jehuu Caulcrick and his staff. As a freshman, Snyder backed up All-State honorable-mention choice Ben Burk for the Trojans.
Over the offseason, the incoming junior worked on his craft, attending eight or nine camps, according to Caulcrick. His work at the U.S. Army All-American camp resulted in an invite to a national combine this winter.
“I definitely think he is going to play at the next level, the question is where,” Caulcrick said Tuesday evening. “He’s smart enough to play, has the arm and has the footwork. He has to continue to grow physically and in his football knowledge.”
The work is paying off this fall. Through three wins, Snyder is 46 of 74 for 606 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. He has also run for a touchdown while picking up a sack and an interception on the defensive side of the ball.
“As a passer, he has the ability to create plays and buy himself time to get receivers open,” Caulcrick said. “We have very good receivers and, if given time, they are going to find a way to get open.”
Blecha also learned under an all-state quarterback when he played running back behind Tom Easton during Franklinville/Ellicottville’s 2015 sectional championship season. Blecha took over behind center last year, but kept his familiar No. 42 due to his love for playing linebacker and running the ball.
“That’s his number. It was kind of strange at first. Coaches watch our film and they can’t get over the number,” Franklinville/Ellicottville coach Chad Bartoszek said Tuesday. “He definitely looks like a running back back there, but lately he has kind of developed into a pretty good quarterback, for sure.”
This year, Blecha is 28 of 41 for 441 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. More of a dual-threat quarterback than Snyder in the Titans’ offense, Blecha has also run for 343 yards with five touchdowns. On the opposite side of the ball, Blecha returned an interception for a touchdown in a season-opening win against Randolph/Frewsburg and has 24 tackles in wins over the Cardinals, non-league South Allegany and an impressive Class D win over 2016 state finalist Maple Grove last Friday night.
“You can focus your offense in different ways. When you have someone like Brock, it makes it easier,” Bartoszek said. “He grew up as a running back, but is talented enough to throw the ball at a really high level. It allows our offense to be multiple.”
Pope’s and the Thunderbirds’ success may be the most surprising of the three. The Chautauqua Lake senior, who is an all-state performer on the basketball court, did not play his sophomore year during a merger with Maple Grove, before returning to the gridiron last fall when the Thunderbirds were forced to play on their own.
“The natural ability is there and he works hard to develop that,” Chautauqua Lake first-year coach Rich Morton said Tuesday. “He’s being a leader as we are expanding our offense. As we do that, he’s one of the guys I can count on to help some of the other guys along if they aren’t sure about something. He’s a coach on the field and that’s really helpful as we put in more stuff.”
Through three games, Pope is 17 of 38 for 390 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. Able to extend plays with his legs, Pope has also rushed for 66 yards and three touchdowns. After a season-opening non-league loss to Southwestern, the Thunderbirds have won their past two games by a combined score of 99-16.
“He’s an athlete. He can take off and run the ball. He’s a competitor so he doesn’t want to slide or run out of bounds,” Morton said. “He’s one of our best players on both sides of the ball and we need to take advantage of that.”
While a trip to Cleveland Hill on Saturday for Snyder, a homecoming date with Maple Grove tonight for Pope and a Week 7 matchup with Clymer/Sherman/Panama for Blecha may very well define their seasons, all three are well on their way to postseason accolades after hot starts this September.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time. It’s very exciting to say ‘We have another year, another offseason with him to keep learning and understand the system,'” Caulcrick said of Snyder. “We are just sitting back and watching his success.”