Partial story of November 4, 2003
A rich tradition
Football finals celebrate 25th year at Bills stadium
By MARY JO MONNIN
News Sports Reporter
Section VI football teams will be participating at Rich/Ralph Wilson Stadium for the 25th year in a row this weekend. For many who were there in the beginning, it's an anniversary they thought they'd never see.
Fred Barone of Niagara-Wheatfield was the chairman of the Section VI Federation at the time, and according to current chairman Chuck Funke of Iroquois, the Rich experience was a tough sell.
"It took a lot of selling only because it had never been done before," said Funke. "Fred had some great big ideas, but to go from a playoff at someone's field to a pro football stadium, it was quite a jump. We were lucky enough to have the Bills who embraced the idea."
It's a marriage that has survived the test of time, not to mention six different Bills general managers. Funke said when Barone turned the chairmanship over to him, included in the boxes and boxes of paperwork was an old form letter Barone would send each year to the Bills' GM.
"It said something like, "I know you're preparing for the owner's meetings, but keep in mind our playoff dates are such-and-such,' " said Funke. "It seemed to work."
Two coaches whose teams played in those first games in 1979 are still coaching today: Howard McMullin of Clymer and Pat Slater, who was in his first season at Randolph.
McMullin still remembers driving into the Stadium parking lot with a couple of players from his team for Media Day, an opportunity for the media to interview players early in the week.
"I can remember when we pulled into Media Day. One of the players was still sitting in the car, his eyes were big and the only words out of his mouth were, "I can't believe we're playing here.' I'll never forget that. I guess a football field is a football field, but those kids were thrilled to have the opportunity."
Here's a class-by-class look at the 2003 matchups:
Orchard Park vs. Lockport: It's size versus speed in this one. Lockport is hoping its speed will create matchup problems. Orchard Park is hoping its line, which averages about 250 pounds, will wear down the Lions.
The Quakers won their seventh in a row by knocking off North Tonawanda, the team that beat them at the stadium last year. RB Cody Williams and FB Mitch Rodems are running with authority behind the big line anchored by junior Jason Weber.
Lockport RB Jhamal Fluellen has 1,663 yards on 196 carries and 19 TDs. With 3,199 career yards, he continues his chase of Randy Smith's record of 3,425. QB Ron Schmidt (30-73, 730 yards) threw his eighth TD pass of the season against Jamestown to tie the Lions' record with 20. WR Jeremy Brown (13 for 467, 6 TDs) and RB P.J. Harris (296 yards for a 10.2 average) are among the Lions' many weapons.
Quick hits: Don't look for the Jumbotron to be showing a lot of touchdown replays. Orchard Park has given up just 10 points in its last four games. Lockport shut out its first seven opponents. . . . Lockport: last appearance 1999. Last win: 1990. Stadium record: 3-2. . . . Orchard Park: last appearance 2002. Last win 2001. Record: 7-3. . . . Quakers are making their third straight stadium appearance.
Grand Island vs. Lew-Port: Although this is a rematch from Week One, which the Vikings won, 20-13, the Lancers are a different team, according to coach Mark Johnson. Lew-Port has ripped off eight wins in a row since that game when it lost starting QB Derck Tracy with a broken leg.
"We're much more efficient on offense, and on defense we just play better as a unit," said Johnson. "The kids have rallied behind (backup QB) Mitch (Bunce). I personally think we have the best duo with Anthony Morreale and Joe Cerminara (1,716 yards, 30 TDs). We use Anthony to block, but when people key on Joe, Anthony will bust one. These kids are tough," said Johnson.
Grand Island counters with the most productive runner in its storied history. Senior Mike Blocho has a school record 1,772 yards with 22 TDs. QB Chris Sica has complete 47 of 92 for 746 yards.
"We're not approaching this game any differently than in Week One," said GI coach Dean Santorio. "I know it's the stadium game, but the stakes were just as high then because that win basically gave us the division and gave us home field."
Quick hits: Grand Island lost in last year's final to Sweet Home, 23-16. . . . Santorio played for the 1984 GI team which lost the Class A final to Williamsville South, 21-6. . . . Grand Island: last appearance: 2002. Last win: 1992. Stadium record: 4-6. . . . Lew-Port: last appearance: 1983. Last win: 1982. Stadium record: 1-2.
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