NEWFANE — Newfane High School football coaches had plenty of teaching material during the first three games. But after an 0-3 start, the best teaching tool was a win.
Panther head coach Chuck Nagel has been transparent about his team’s tendency to make plays — good and bad — based on emotion. Early in the season, a few bad plays resulted in losses. Frustration sets in when looking at an 0-3 record and the daunting task of climbing back up the standings to compete for a playoff appearance, especially when two of those losses could have been wins.
Newfane had fourth-quarter leads against Depew and Akron, only to see both games slip away late. Then Newfane parlayed a 39-14 win over Springville into a 21-7 win over Tonawanda and is all of a sudden on a winning streak. More importantly, the Panthers are gaining confidence and it will be needed in the final three games of the regular season.
“These guys are an emotional group of guys, and when things aren’t going well, you can’t see it,” Nagel said. “It’s right on their faces, it’s in their body language and it’s in their play. … We can blame officials, we can blame this and that, but in the end we shot ourselves in the foot. There’s two games we should have won, but it’s a teaching tool and we talk about it all the time. These guys know we should be 4-1 and here we are at 2-3 clawing our way out of the cellar.”
The emotional pendulum can swing often and it did so for Newfane during its win over Tonawanda. Coming off the win against Springville four days earlier, the Panthers expected to roll past a Warrior squad that had been outscored 129-28 on the season. But at halftime, Newfane clung to a 14-7 lead.
Quarterback Ryan Kramp easily had the best game of his career against Springville, going 15 of 19 for 354 yards and six total touchdowns, but the offense fell back into a slump against Tonawanda during the first half. Sustaining drives was difficult and chunk plays were scarce.
Nagel could see the dejection at halftime and was quick to remind his players they were not only winning, but capable of more. They listened. Chase Braman ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns, eclipsing his totals in both categories for the entire season.
“We’re winning by seven points and the kids are down because we’re not up bigger,” Nagel said. “I said, ‘Look where we were three weeks, two weeks ago, last week. You guys are a good team — act like it, play like it.’”
Newfane travels to Cardinal O’Hara at 2 p.m. Saturday for a non-league game before closing out the season with Class C North games against Cleveland Hill and Wilson. The Panthers are currently 1-2 in league play, which is fourth in the division.
They will need to win both remaining league games and likely get some help to qualify for the playoffs. Wilson, which is 2-1 and in the No. 3 spot in Class C North, plays unbeaten Medina on Friday. The top two teams in each division of Class C earn spots in the playoffs, while the remaining two spots are determined through the win-loss percentage in league games tiebreaker. Point differential average and fewest points allowed in league games would be the next tiebreaker scenarios.
Eden/North Collins (2-0), Southwestern (2-1), Wilson (2-1) and Salamanca (2-1) are all currently ahead of Newfane in the race for the final two spots, but the playoff picture is anything but clear with three weeks left in the regular season.
“We hope we still have a shot at the playoffs,” Nagel said. “Our goal is to win every game and hopefully get some help and sneak in.”
Nick Sabato can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.