By Sam Wilson
For two and a half quarters, Franklinville/ Ellicottville looked primed for a sectional title, and perhaps a run at the state championship.
But a nine-point third-quarter Titans lead went for naught Friday night at New Era Field, as they allowed three straight touchdowns to defending champion Maple Grove. The Titans’ potent offense dried up and ultimately fumbled away a chance at a game-winning drive to continue an undefeated season.
Maple Grove won, 26-15, in the Section 6 Class D championship, the Red Dragons’ fourth straight sectional title (including two in Class C under a merger with Chautauqua Lake) and second in a row over the Titans. F/E, which won 26-6 at Maple Grove in Week 3 this year, ends the year at 9-1.
“The hardest thing that I’m doing in a public setting as a coach or as a teacher is looking at kids that just got their sporting lives taken from them, their football lives taken from them,” Titans coach Chad Bartoszek said of his senior-laden group. “You try to talk to them. I don’t have a real good answer. We care about them. That’s all we can tell them. We love ‘em. Seeing tears in their eyes is about as hard as it gets.”
The F/E offense, averaging 355 yards per game entering the championship, gained just over half of that, with 180 yards on 43 plays and just 60 on 21 plays in the second half.
Senior quarterback Brock Blecha completed 9-of-17 passes for 125 yards and gained 48 yards on 15 carries, accounting for all but 7 of F/E’s total yards. His 58-yard out pass to senior Griffin Chudy, and a two-point conversion run, gave F/E an 8-0 first-quarter lead.
“It looked super good at the beginning,” Blecha said. “Scoring off that out, it looked fantastic and I had such a big heart after that. I had a great feeling that it was going to go well in the end. We just couldn’t pull through and that really bit us in the butt in the end.”
Sophomore Tyler Clear gave F/E a 15-6 lead with a 41-yard return of his interception of Easton Tanner.
But Tanner, the Red Dragons’ junior quarterback, threw two touchdowns to take the lead, the first one set up by a 48-yard pass to Carson Crist. Maple Grove running back Nick Fabrizio ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.
Trailing in the second half for the first time all season, 19-15 in the middle of the fourth quarter, F/E lost a fumble on a reverse handoff on its attempt at a go-ahead drive with 5:15 to play. Fabrizio then scored his second touchdown to seal the game.
“It was just a fumble. It’s a play we’ve run,” Bartoszek said. “We’ve run a reverse all year. We usually work on a couple a week and we run one and it’s just a fumble. These kids played hard. That’s a good team. There’s some tough kids, great coaches. It just didn’t go our way.”
F/E went 3-of-10 on third downs, while Maple Grove was 7-of-12.
“When you’re running some things with your guys and you need a yard here, you need a yard there,” Bartoszek said. “I think offensively, those are the plays that help the field position game and keep the offense on the field and keep our defense off the field. That was the biggest change this game. We didn’t execute third and fourth downs and put ourselves in a hole constantly. It’s disheartening, but the effort was there. You could see it on their faces. They’re playing and giving everything they’ve got.”
Chudy led F/E with four solo tackles (11 assisted). For MG, Carter Russo had five solo tackles (seven assisted) and recovered the fourth-quarter reverse fumble. Truman Purslow had the game’s only sack.
F/E’s seniors were freshmen on the first F/E merger junior varsity team in 2014. Brock Blecha said he didn’t expect the run his new teammates, rivals in other sports, would go on together.
“From the first year, it was like ‘Is this really going to work? It doesn’t feel like a family,’” he said. “But this fourth year, we can’t get enough of each other. From practice to games, we just love each other so much and everybody knows that I love each one of my teammates so much and I’m going to miss the hell out of them because they are such great teammates. Since this is my last year, I’m never going to be able to experience another game with them.”
For Maple Grove coach Curt Fischer, even appearing on the sideline took some pain tolerance. Limping but showing a pained grin after the victory, Fischer underwent double hernia surgery on Tuesday, missing the team’s media day at the stadium and practice.
“Wednesday was a hard day to be there,” Fischer said of the next day’s practice. “I was there for a little while and had to leave early and then the next one, I got through it as much as I could. We just came out here today, I thought I would end up sitting upstairs and calling the game from up there. But I don’t know how it worked, I don’t know how I did it but I’ll pay the price for it.”
Trailing 15-6 in the third, Fischer wanted his Red Dragons (9-1) to stay calm.
“The biggest thing for us as coaches is you can’t let your players see you flinch,” Fischer said. “We just acted like come on, business as usual. Because if you fold, they’re going to fold. Everything that you do as a coach, they’re going to accept that and we just went along. Thank God I had good coaches that did the same thing. We told them, ‘There’s a lot of game left, boys. We’ve got to keep playing right now.’ And you know what? They did.”