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T’Birds Present Coach Gibbs With Win In His Debut

Chautauqua Lake/Westfield/Brocton’s Luke Waters (12) finds the end zone as Cassadaga Valley/Falconer’s Karsen Depasquale attempts to make the tackle. P-J photo by Valory S. Isaacson

FALCONER — With high school football returning to the gridiron for an unusual springtime start, teams were forced to prepare on a much shorter schedule than normal. And in Saturday’s game between Chautauqua Lake/Westfield/Brocton and Cassadaga Valley/Falconer readiness proved to be one of the defining factors.

The Thunderbirds were able to power by the Golden Cougars at Bill Race Field on Saturday night, 26-14. CL/W/B scored all of its points in the first half after falling behind 8-0 and used its edge in the turnover battle to force short fields for quick scores.

“We didn’t do a really good job during this short season,” said Golden Cougars coach Dan Greco. “They did better than us with the short preparation.”

The game started off well for the Golden Cougars. After forcing a turnover on downs on the Thunderbirds’ opening drive, Cassadaga Valley/Falconer needed just six plays to find the end zone as quarterback Dalton Caldwell found Landon Mower for a 24-yard touchdown pass on third-and-15. The two-point conversion was punched in by running back Noah Abram, and the Golden Cougars found themselves in front, 8-0 with just under eight minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Thunderbirds drove to the Falconer/Cassadaga Valley 7-yard line and went for it on a fourth-and-4, but were stopped. Everything appeared to be going in the Golden Cougars favor.

But the turning point would quickly follow.

After three straight incompletions from Caldwell, the Golden Cougars were forced to punt on fourth and 10 at their own 20. They attempted a quick punt that was not executed well enough, and the T’Birds came up with a huge block, setting themselves up at 5-yard line. CL/W/B made quick work, as Luke Ormsby scored on the very next play, followed by quarterback Luke Waters hitting Ricky Syper on a two-point conversion to tie the game, 8-8, with two minutes to go in the first. That blocked punt, according to Greco, was the turning point of the game.

“The kick down here turned it around,” Greco said. “We wanted to quick-kick it, but it got blocked. That really changed momentum and got them excited.”

On the ensuing kickoff, the Golden Cougars couldn’t corral it, and the Thunderbirds got another possession with a very short field, and Ormsby scored his second touchdown in the opening minutes of the second quarter, putting CL/W/B up 14-6.

The Golden Cougars punted away the ball on their next possession, and it looked like the Thunderbirds had another quick score on a deep pass from Waters, but the play was called back due to a penalty. A few plays later, after a 59-yard hookup from Waters to Gavin Sauerland, it looked like momentum would switch back to CV/F as Ormsby put the ball on the ground at the Golden Cougar 22-yard line.

But on the very next play, the Golden Cougars handed the ball right back with a fumble of their own. With just a brief interruption for the Thunderbirds offense, who got to pick back up effectively where they left off, Waters scored on a 2-yard carry to extend the lead to 20-6.

History would almost repeat itself on the next Thunderbirds possession.

Following another Golden Cougar punt, CL/W/B would turn the ball over on downs at the Golden Cougars 37-yard line. This gave F/CV a chance to cut back into the lead right before halftime, but Caldwell threw an interception on the next snap, giving CL/W/B the ball back right at the 37.

“We talk about it all the time,” said Thunderbirds’ coach Ryan Gibbs. “We can’t let stuff snowball. When we make a mistake, we have to turn it up on the very next play. I’m proud of the defense for getting the ball back.”

The Thunderbirds would score in one play, as Waters connected with Sauerland again, to extend the Thunderbirds’ lead to 26-8 heading into halftime. The only touchdown in the second half came very late in the fourth quarter, as Abram found the end zone for the Golden Cougars to cut the score to its eventual final of 26-14.

Ormsby and Waters each showed up big for the Thunderbirds. Waters was 11 of 24 passing for 141 yards, while rushing and throwing for a touchdown. Ormsby had 21 carries for 94 yards rushing and two scores.

“Luke Waters didn’t play football last year,” Gibbs said, “but we talked him into coming out. He’s our leader, without question, and he played a great game. And Ormsby had some good, tough carries, and played tough on defense, too.”

For the Golden Cougars, Caldwell went just 3/10 passing for 44 yards, throwing a touchdown and an interception, while Abram ended up with 15 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown.

“We’re going to work,” Greco said. “We’re not packing it in. It’s just one game, and we’ll go to work next week and fix what we can.”

The win for Gibbs was his first at the helm of the program, and he was treated with a Gatorade bath from his players following the game.

“I have a lot of respect for that team tonight and Dan Greco,” Gibbs said. “It’s pretty special to me. I’m going to enjoy myself for a bit.”

He doesn’t have much time to relax, however, as his team is next in action against Clymer/Sherman/Panama next week. Meanwhile, the Golden Cougars also have a tough task, as the Fredonia Hillbillies will pay them a visit. Greco knows that if Fredonia quarterback Nick Whitfield is good to go, his team will need to tighten up its pass defense.

“If their quarterback is ready, I hear great things about him,” Greco said. “We will have to play a whole lot better than we did tonight in coverage.”

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