By Sam Wilson
With an undefeated team, No. 1 seed and regular season win over Maple Grove, Franklinville/Ellicottville coach Chad Bartoszek still doesn’t want to think of the Red Dragons as underdogs.
The defending Section 6 Class D champions, the Red Dragons (8-1) lost to F/E, 26-6, in Week 3. But Bartoszek has too much respect for counterpart Curt Fischer, who surpassed 200 career wins last season en route to the NYSPHSAA finals.
“I remember as a player in ‘96 I was waiting on the UB field to go play for Salamanca and off came Maple Grove versus, I think they played Cal-Mum that year. He was coaching then,” Bartoszek said of Fischer. “The expectation level for their program is set to a certain standard and all their guys come through they keep expecting to win so it’s a very difficult trend to knock down with just one win. We’re going to have to show up. It’s going to be a battle again on Friday, Maple Grove, they’re never an underdog at the stadium. You’re going to have to beat them. They set a kind of standard that we want to match.”
The Titans aim for their second title Friday at 5 p.m. at New Era Field.
The win at Maple Grove still stands as F/E’s closest game and its lowest point of the season as the Titans outscore opponents with an average of 42.8-11.8. This year marks the first unbeaten season of F/E’s four years as a merged football team, led by seniors from two schools who started playing together as JV freshmen in 2014. All four years, the Titans have made the Section 6 final, winning in 2015.
“We all play as a team, we’re all really good friends, we’ve been playing together since ninth grade and we’ve got a really good bond together,” senior running back/linebacker Griffin Chudy said. “Leadership helps a lot too. We’ve got really good coaches and really good leadership on this team.”
The “senior-laden” group’s consistency helped F/E reach 9-0 through two playoff games.
“A lot of times with younger kids, younger groups, you tend to have more ups and downs,” Bartoszek said. “This year we’ve stayed healthy as well, we’ve had the same group of starters relatively the whole year and we’ve got some real strong senior leaders that just kind of create an atmosphere of expectation. Everybody’s on board and there isn’t a ton of let-down. And they’re pretty talented, too.”
Senior quarterback Brock Blecha leads the high-powered offense with 30 total touchdowns (15 passing, 15 rushing), throwing for 1,181 yards on 64 percent passing with one interception and rushing for 571 yards.
While Blecha improved on an impressive first year as a junior captain starting quarterback, he has a balanced group of backs and receivers to work with. Including Blecha, four different Titans have at least 200 rushing yards, led by Chudy’s 619 yards on 85 carries with 10 total touchdowns (eight rushing). Four have at least 176 receiving yards, with senior tight end Sam Erickson catching 21 passes for 404 yards and seven touchdowns.
“It’s difficult to try and pinpoint exactly who is going to do what on a given day,” Bartoszek said of his offense. “I think we have a talented group and I think one of the reasons that we’re difficult to defend is just because we have multiple weapons. Having said that, there are days where I’m like, ‘Wow, Griff’s running the ball well, we’re going to feed him and our line’s getting that good push.’
“Against Maple Grove, we weren’t able to get a push. We had to spread the ball and we had to move it around different ways. Then you’ve got a kid like Sammy Erickson who you feel like you could throw the ball to every play really. But it doesn’t always work like that and we’ve gotten to a point where we tend not to target certain individuals, we kind of let the play unfold and that leaves the expectation open for every player to make a play. Obviously Brock, he’s the engine of that.”
Blecha, one of four captains in their third trip to New Era Field as a varsity starter along with Chudy, Erickson and Grinols, gave credit to the linemen who help them run the balanced offense.
“They get graded every single game and they try to improve,” Blecha said. “Dakota (Olson), Walter (Woodarek), Griffin (Hal ey), Hunter (O’Stricker) and Conner (Burrell), they’ve just been fantastic. They don’t get the recognition they really deserve but they’ve just been the key to our offense and defense. They’re the reason why we’re successful and why we move the ball.”
Meanwhile, Blecha has a team-best 50 tackles (five for loss) with an interception and fumble recovery at linebacker. Junior Jacob Peters has 41 tackles (six for loss) with a pick and fumble recovery and fellow linebacker Griffin Chudy has 40 tackles (six for loss), three picks and a fumble recovery.
Erickson has 14 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, and four fumble recoveries at defensive end, while senior safety Austin Grinols has three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.