Grand Island's Justin Horvath moves up, Canisius' Tyler Baker still leads GNN player of the year race

Nick Sabato

Well, the race is starting to tighten.

For the first time since the initial Greater Niagara Newspaper football player of the year rankings release, we have movement in the standings. As teams dig deeper into the schedule, particularly in league play, the top players in the region are beginning to stand out.

The top four spots are still quarterback-heavy, but there is a new addition to the No. 5 spot this week and skill players are also beginning to flash.

Tyler Baker, Sr., Canisius: For the first time this season, Baker had a less-than-dominant performance, but was still quite good. He threw two interceptions, but still had a touchdown and completed 65.2% of his 23 attempts as the Crusaders beat Boston College High School 35-14 on the road. Baker has 862 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 71.4% of his passes for the season. Canisius is back on the road this week with a game at fabled Washington High School at 7:30 p.m. today in Massillon, Ohio. The Tigers are among the top-10 all-time winningest programs in the United States.

Justin Horvath, Sr., Grand Island: Horvath is among the Western New York leaders in all passing categories despite not throwing a second-half pass in three weeks. He threw three more first-half touchdown passes against Lockport on Thursday and that moves him up a spot on the list as the Vikings continue to separate themselves in Class A North. Horvath has 14 touchdown passes and one interception, while eclipsing the 1,000-yard plateau in the win over the Lions.

Xander Payne, Sr., Medina: Payne slides down the list, not because of his own play, but the exceptional play of Horvath with first place in the league up for grabs the last two weeks. The Mustangs have also been running the ball better, as running back Noah Skinner has back-to-back 100-yard performances. Still, Payne got his numbers last week, throwing three touchdowns for the fourth consecutive games this season. Payne is tied for sixth in Western New York with 12 touchdowns and is ninth with 728 yards.

Jason Green, Jr., Lockport: Despite adding another 248 yards to his total, Thursday’s loss to Class A North-leading Grand Island was a learning experience for Green. Too often in the first half, Green took shots down the sideline and the cost was greater than the reward, throwing three interceptions in the game. Still, he will be one of three quarterbacks in Western New York with 1,300 yards entering Friday’s games and has 16 touchdown passes. A bounceback game against Kenmore East next week could help Lockport stay in the playoff race.

Brian Bielec, Sr., Grand Island: Bielec brings toughness and balance to the Vikings. Horvath makes the offense hum, but Bielec forces defenses to be honest. With 129 yards against Lockport, he has surpassed 100 yards on the ground four times in the last five games and he has amassed 100 yards from scrimmage in five consecutive games. Bielec also has nine rushing touchdowns and 10 total scores this season. He has also been stout at linebacker, serving as the second-leading tackler for Grand Island and picking up sacks in consecutive weeks.

Climbing the ladder

Noah Skinner, Jr., Medina: Skinner has been vital for the Mustangs all season at linebacker, tallying 22 tackles and five sacks. But he is also beginning to become a force at running back. The junior has 355 yards and three touchdowns on 10.4 yards per carry. Skinner ran for 123 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts -- and a sack -- in a 38-6 win over Cleveland Hill last week. He also had 133 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts against Lackawanna on Sept. 18. With Skinner toting the ball, Medina becomes increasingly more dangerous on offense.

Logan Wendt, Sr., Lockport: Perhaps the best tight end in Western New York, not many teams have found a solution for Wendt in the passing game. He entered Week 6 fifth in WNY with 384 yards and added another 100-yard performance in defeat. Wendt has three 100-yard games this season, including in back-to-back games. He also enters this week tied for second in WNY with eight touchdown receptions.

Carson Marcus, Sr., Starpoint: Marcus had a tough couple weeks, totaling a combined 167 yards, but rebounded against McKinley on Tuesday by throwing for 253 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Another big game is on the table against Niagara Wheatfield on Saturday. Marcus’ performance is vital for the Spartans to keep pace in the hunt for a Class A North championship.

GNN Sports reporter Nick Sabato can be reached via email at or on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.

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