Flip The Script

Red Dragons Avenge Earlier Loss, Rally Past Titans, 26-15

Maple Grove’s Truman Purslow, left, sacks Franklinville/Ellicottville’s Brock Blecha during Friday night’s Section VI Class D championship football game at New Era Field in Orchard Park. P-J photo by Scott Reagle

ORCHARD PARK — Franklinville/Ellicottville was the darling of Class D this season, running the table to a perfect 7-0 regular-season record and seemingly having their way with every opponent on their schedule, including Maple Grove in Week 3.

With a Section VI championship on the line Friday evening at New Era Field, the Red Dragons flipped the script.

No. 2 Maple Grove scored the final 20 points of the game and held No. 1 Franklinville/Ellicottville to 180 yards of offense, including just 55 on the ground, as the Red Dragons won their fourth straight sectional crown and ninth overall with a 26-15 victory.

“You can’t even imagine how it feels right now. It’s just awesome,” Maple Grove senior linebacker Zak Trim said. ” … Coach said all week that we weren’t the underdogs because we were defending our turf.”

Maple Grove now awaits the winner of today’s 3 p.m. Section V championship game between Alexander (9-0) and Clyde-Savannah (9-0) at Alfred University. Next Friday’s Far West Regional game will kick off at 5 p.m. at SUNY Brockport.

The Red Dragons’ Taige Jones recovers a fumble. P-J photo by Scott Reagle

With 8:33 left in the third quarter of Friday’s sectional final, the prospect of playing next weekend looked bleak for the Red Dragons as they trailed 15-6, but the championship mettle of the Red Dragons showed on their final three drives.

Nash Nelson got things going for Maple Grove when he scored on a 15-yard pass from Easton Tanner with 3:39 left in the third quarter. The 10-play, 70-yard drive was kept alive by a key roughing-the-passer call on third-and-5 that gave the state’s ninth-ranked team new life. Zach Fischer’s extra-point after the touchdown made it a three-point game.

After the Titans punted two plays into the fourth quarter, Maple Grove went to work again. Following small gains on their first five plays of the drive, the Red Dragons went to the air to shift the field. On second-and-9 from their own 35-yard line, Tanner faked a bubble screen to Fischer before going over the top of the Titans defense to hit Carson Crist with a 48-yard pass down to the 17-yard line.

“We realized that they were jumping and they had the safeties way over,” Fischer said about the 48-yard play. “I played it off and said ‘screen’ as if I didn’t hear the play. I saw them look at me so we faked it. Carson made a great catch and Easton made a great throw.”

After a 4-yard run by Nick Fabrizio, Tanner found Fischer open in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown and the Red Dragons’ first lead of the game at 19-15 with 7:28 remaining.

Maple Grove’s Zach Fischer catches a touchdown pass from quarterback Easton Tanner. P-J photo by Scott Reagle

“We had Nick running the ball really well and then we realized they were in a goal line-type defense,” Fischer said. “Easton made a great throw and a great read, and we executed that pass play.”

On its ensuing drive, Franklinville/Ellicottville fumbled a pitch on a reverse from its own 41-yard line and Maple Grove junior linebacker Taige Jones fell on the ball to set the Red Dragons up at the Titans’ 33-yard line.

“You don’t even think about anything, you just get on it,” Russo said after the recovery.

Fabrizio was called on for all six plays on the drive as he ran for 33 yards in two minutes and four seconds, scoring on a 5-yard run with 3:11 remaining.

“The one thing you don’t want to do is put them in striking distance or ahead late, because that is downhill running,” Franklinville/Ellicottville coach Chad Bartoszek said. “A big play here or there after our touchdown could’ve been a difference maker.”

Maple Grove’s Carson Crist drags down Franklinville/Ellicottville’s Austin Grinols. P-J photo by Scott Reagle

Fittingly, the Red Dragons stopped the Titans on a fourth-and-1 to turn the ball over with less than a minute remaining. The state’s No. 7 team was just 3 of 13 on third and fourth downs after converting 9-of-17 chances during the teams’ Week 3 meeting.

“I feel like some of those third or fourth and shorts where we couldn’t get a yard … that hurts a little bit,” Bartoszek said. ” … We didn’t execute third and fourth down, and we put ourselves in a hole constantly.”

Despite the loss, the Titans continued a run of four straight title-game appearances that coincides with the merging of the Franklinville and Ellicottville programs in 2014.

“They are all in there and they want to play, they want to practice on Monday. Life, especially in football, isn’t always fair,” Bartoszek said outside his locker room. “The hardest thing … is looking at kids who just got their football lives taken from them. You try to talk to them, but you don’t have a really good answer. … Seeing tears in their eyes is about as hard as it gets.”

Maple Grove will now continue its journey toward avenging its double-overtime loss to Cambridge in the state championship game a season ago.

“They are extremely hungry,” Maple Grove coach Curt Fischer said. “The seniors had that bad taste left in their mouth after that game last year. They definitely want to get back there.”

“The goal is the same thing as it’s always been, it’s to win states,” Trim added. “Our motto this year is ‘Finish It.’ … We are starting to peak right now.”

NOTES: Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake won two Class C titles to start the Red Dragons’ current four-year sectional title streak. … Maple Grove won three straight Class D crowns from 1996-98. … Sam Erickson and Fischer were named the Intense Milk/Cross Training Athletics Character Athletes of the Game. … Fabrizio finished with 111 yards on 21 carries. … Blecha led Franklinville/Ellicottville with 48 yards on 15 carries. … Griffin Chudy scored on a 58-yard catch and run in the first quarter before Fabrizio answered with a 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Franklinville/Ellicottville’s Tyler Clear ran back an interception 41 yards for the Titans’ second touchdown.

Maple Grove 0 6 7 13 — 26

Franklinville/Ellicottville 8 0 7 0 — 15

F/E–Chudy 58 pass from Blecha (Blecha run)

MG–Fabrizio 2 run (run failed)

F/E–Clear 41 interception return (Blecha kick)

MG–Nelson 15 pass from Tanner (Fischer kick)

MG–Fischer 13 pass from Tanner (pass failed)

MG–Fabrizio 5 run (Fischer kick)