Reloaded Trojans Seek Elusive Title
Southwestern, the South Division’s No. 1 seed, will take on Wilson, the North Division’s No. 1 seed, in the Section VI Class C championship game Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at New Era Field in Orchard Park.
P-J file photo
Cole Snyder is playing quarterback at Rutgers in the Big Ten Conference.
Alex Card is playing wide receiver at Division II Saint Anselm College.
And Faizan Munir is studying biology on a pre-med track at the University of Rochester.
Despite losing that trio of stars that helped play in three straight Section VI Class C championship games, the Southwestern Trojans may be even better this season.
The South Division’s No. 1 seed will look to win its first sectional title since 2011 when it takes on North Division No. 1 Wilson at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at New Era Field in Orchard Park.
The Trojans and Lakemen have recent history.
Last year, Southwestern won 45-44 in overtime of their sectional semifinal matchup after then-junior Cooper Pannes stopped Wilson quarterback Steve Frerichs on a 2-point conversion attempt.
That was almost a year to the day after the Trojans topped the Lakemen 28-27 in the same round of the postseason when they again stopped a 2-point conversion in the dying moments to seal the victory.
“A majority of these kids were in those games,” Southwestern interim head coach Jake Burkholder said Tuesday during media day at New Era Field. ” … Being a part of those games and knowing it’s come down to the last play both years … that’s huge.”
“Ten weeks ago, I hoped we’d be here. I had faith in our guys that we’d be able to do it, but I didn’t know it would be an undefeated season against an undefeated Southwestern, again,” Wilson head coach Bill Atlas added. “The kids are super excited, the community is fired up. It’s been fun.”
This year, Wilson might be lucky just to be that close late in the game.
Southwestern has been a juggernaut thus far, outscoring opponents 379-46 en route to a perfect 9-0 record.
The starting defense has yet to allow a score.
Sophomore quarterback Aidan Kennedy — AK — has filled the void left by Snyder in spectacular fashion, completing 62-of-108 passes for 1,452 yards and 22 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
“At AK’s age, it’s great having a quarterback like him,” Southwestern senior Tywon Wright said. “Seeing him grow as a quarterback and be comfortable in the pocket, making the plays that he makes, it’s great having a quarterback like that.”
Wright has 93 carries for 901 yards and 15 touchdowns while senior Conrad Thomas has 16 carries for 231 yards and three touchdowns, and junior Zishan Munir had 41 carries for 190 yards and four touchdowns.
“It’s great that my whole team is eating every day,” Wright added about the Trojans’ multiple weapons. “Every game, we are all being successful and being great.”
Senior Dom Certo has picked up the slack left by Card’s departure by catching 23 passes for 702 yards and nine touchdowns while six of junior Garrett Swan’s 12 catches have gone for touchdowns.
“Me and AK used to be scout-team players. We’ve always had that bond,” Certo said. “He knows where to put that ball and I know how to catch it.”
Defensively, the Trojans are stacked.
Pannes leads the unit as he has been in on 58 tackles, including 18 for a loss, and eight sacks. Thomas has been in on 55 tackles, including 16 for a loss, and three sacks while Wright has been in on 41 tackles, including 11 for a loss, and four sacks.
“I didn’t know what they were going to bring to the table. It’s been great to have them as part of the Southwestern Trojan family,” Burkholder said of Wright and Thomas. ” … They’ve had a huge impact. … It’s opened it up for everybody to have big games.”
Munir, junior Nate Card and Certo each have three interceptions while senior Jon Pearson and junior Nate Johnson each have two. Overall, Southwestern has forced 27 turnovers.
“As long as we can hold onto the ball, it means they don’t have it and they can’t score,” Atlas said. “We’ll just have to make sure we take care of the football.”
Wilson is an equally impressive 9-0, but has done so by much slimmer margins. The Lakemen are outscoring opponents 234-91. Three of their victories have been of the one-score variety, including last week when they scored late to top Portville 26-21.
Brayden Dunlap has run for 957 yards and 10 touchdowns while Drew Westmorland has four rushing touchdowns. Robert Atlas has thrown for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns with his favorite receiver being Declar Faery (31 catches, 401 yards, four TDs).
“We can’t take Wilson lightly. They are a good team and they are well-coached,” Pannes said. ” … We barely snuck out two years in a row and they are probably angry about it.”
The Trojans’ success starts in the trenches where Pannes, junior Drew Wigren, senior Seth Bennett, junior Calvin Ricker, sophomore Dontae Hoose and senior Chris “Tiny” Quinn have done their best work.
“I think we are the best line in the section, hands down,” Pannes said. “We work well together, defensively and offensively.”
“We definitely have some strength because we are always in the weight room lifting,” Quinn added. “I think we have a strong defense. It will be a decent game.”
If Southwestern is successful this weekend, it will play in its first Far West Regional since 2011 at noon next Saturday at SUNY Brockport. From there, the Trojans will be looking for their first state championship since going back-to-back in the 2008-09 seasons.
“We have that six-step goal, but it’s one step at a time. When you think of walking down the steps, as soon as you look down or look ahead, that’s when you start stumbling a little bit,” Burkholder said. ” … We haven’t even thought about anybody in Section V or anybody past that point. … Our goal is on Wilson and winning this game here.”
And if Saturday’s game comes down to a last-second 2-point conversion?
“We’ll have a decision made before kickoff,” Atlas said, ” … but that’s a tough one to answer.”