GRAND ISLAND — Grand Island showed Lockport how to play first-place football on Thursday.
For the second consecutive week, the Vikings welcomed a team to Gene Masters Field with first place in Class A North on the line. Meanwhile, the Lions have one winning season since 2012 and the inexperience in big games showed.
Unforced errors and four first-half turnovers set Grand Island up for success and it does not waste many opportunities. The Vikings swarmed the Lions with the first 36 points of the game in a 43-12 romp, taking another step closer to clinching a league championship.
Four teams entered Week 6 with one loss in league play, but with its fifth consecutive win, Grand Island remains the lone unbeaten team in A North.
“Regardless of what week it’s been, it’s been about executing and finishing drives offensively, which we’ve fortunately been able to do,” Grand Island head coach Dean Santorio said. “We have guys that find ways to make plays, whether it’s Justin (Horvath) in the air to our couple receivers, Tyler Figliola had a great game today or Brian Bielec on the ground. Defensively, (Lockport) scored a ton of points the last few weeks and to really shut them out until the third quarter and we can’t say enough about what our defense has done.”
No player’s performance signified how Grand Island was able to capitalize on Lockport miscues than Figliola. The senior intercepted Jason Green — who had thrown 12 touchdown passes in the previous three games — twice in the first half and both were converted into touchdowns. Meanwhile, Figliola was also on the receiving end of two Justin Horvath touchdown passes, running crisp in-cutting routes before bursting to the outside to snag the ball on both receptions.
After the Vikings fumbled on their first possession of the second half, Green quickly found Matthew Schafftert for a 50-yard touchdown. Santorio shouted, “This is exactly what we didn’t want to happen!” But Figliola proceeded to hit a gaping hole in the Lion kickoff coverage and raced 90 yards for a touchdown to slam the door on any slim comeback hopes they held.
“They’re a team you have to respect and I think they’re the second-best team in our league,” Figliola said. “That kick return for a touchdown was huge. It really put the hammer down.”
Although Lockport was more poised offensively in the second half, its mistakes in the first 24 minutes were impossible to overcome. The Lions dropped two third-down passes that would have not only extended the drives, but would have produced significant gains. A pass interference call on third down also extended a drive for Grand Island, which scored on its first five drives of the game.
Lockport never truly found the offensive groove that allowed it to produce more than 40 points in three consecutive games, while Green threw as many interceptions (three) on Thursday as he did in all five previous games this year. Instead of taking easy completions over the middle, too often Green attempted to take a big play down the sidelines, a correction head coach Trait Smith said was made at halftime. Green completed one pass that traveled more than 20 yards in the air and was intercepted on two such occasions.
“Being in a big game like this, it was overwhelming for many of them,” Smith said. “Truthfully, I’d rather play on a Saturday like a normal day. But it gives them experience. They have to take this and learn from it and we will — we’ll get better. It’s going to hurt tomorrow and it’s going to hurt during the day, but once we watch film and learn from it, I think it’s a good learning tool now. I’d much rather have this happen now to calm us and get us back into reality.”
Horvath, meanwhile, had little trouble against a defense that recorded 18 sacks coming into the game. The senior threw three touchdown passes, going 11 of 19 for 188 yards. A 46-yard pass to Figliola was the lone pass to travel more than 20 yards in the air, but he netted an average of 17.1 yards on his 11 completions, including a 48-yard catch-and-run by Brayden Willats.
“We knew all week that they were going to pressure us with six or seven guys at a time, but our O-line played great today,” Horvath said. “They picked up the protection — we were changing at the line and they did a great job. I can’t do my job without those guys.”
As Grand Island moves closer to a league championship, Lockport must regroup for a home game against Kenmore West at 2 p.m. Oct. 16 and a win is likely needed to stay in contention to make the playoffs. The Lions were one of four teams with one league loss entering Thursday and the top-four teams in each league will qualify for sectionals in Class A.
Not only will Lockport need to beat Kenmore East — which is its final league game remaining before a non-league contest with South Park to close the season — but it will need some help in the final two weeks to sneak in.
“We’ve got to learn how to win and learn how to lose,” Smith said. “It’s high school football and that’s what happens in high school football. Can’t have those mistakes against a good program like (Grand Island) and I think they understand that now.”
Brian Bielec had 129 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and Jackson Jones had a touchdown reception and an interception for Grand Island, which travels to Niagara Wheatfield at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15.
Logan Wendt had 100 yards on six receptions, while Dylan Martin recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown for Lockport.
Nick Sabato can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.