NEWFANE — How sweet it is, Newfane, how sweet it is.
The Panthers are officially Class B-4 champions after Friday night’s 26-7 win over Tonawanda. Newfane (4-1, 4-0) has won its first divisional football title since the 1993 season.
Head coach Chuck Nagel took over the Panthers in 2011 and acknowledged how tough it was to reach this pinnacle.
“When I was first starting out, I was begging everyone to come and help coach with me,” Nagel said in regards to piecing his current staff together.
“I was begging everyone to come coach with me and nobody wanted a part of it. We had a tradition of losing football games and finally we got the right staff in place.”
It seemed that this game would be a defensive battle early, but Panthers QB Garrett Srock was able to put his squad on top with two first half TDs to Zach Snow (2 catches, 87 receiving yards, 2 TDs)
The Warriors (2-3, 2-1) would answer in the second quarter with a score from Jason Frazer, but the Panthers ‘D’ held tough from there. They were able to post a shutout the rest of the way and forced three Jason Mangold interceptions.
Those turnovers were spearheaded by Josh Everett (8 tackles, 2 INTs) and were arguably the biggest plays of the game. Both Everett picks set up Jaden Heers (112 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs) scores and might have been the biggest difference in the game.
“Our teams never really seen this,” Everett said. “I mean, it’s been 26 years since we’ve even been here in this situation. Our crowd was into it tonight and overall our defense played solid and we just did our 1/11th, did our job and came out with the W.”
Everett praised defensive coordinator John Vosburgh for the strong preparation and game plan. The Panthers wanted to make sure they keyed in on Frazer and Tonawanda TE Marty Latko, which ultimately helped them prevail.
The defensive unit was strong overall but Everett, Heers (11 tackles) and Chance Caccamise (8 tackles) were the stat stuffers for the night.
Nagel said this defensive performance was a long time coming.
“We knew that our defensive points against really wasn’t accurate,” Nagel said. “We threw a pick-six week one that counted against our defense. We sub in the second and third team guys when we were ahead the last three games. And they let up some points but that’s OK. We’re OK with that because they’re getting good experience.”
Srock was able to battle through some big hits and late shots in one of his best nights through the air all season. Even being limited to just 57 rushing yards, the big time dual-threat knew his team had to battle to take the division crown.
“We knew coming into the game it was gonna be rough,” Srock said. “They were gonna hit us hard. Probably one of the best defensive teams we’re gonna face all season. We just had to follow the script. Like coach always tells us, just follow the script and we can do it. And that’s exactly what we did and now we’re league champs.”
One thing Srock mentioned as motivation coming in was that the Warriors were ranked in local small schools polls, coupled with some Twitter chatter.
“That just made us just push even harder to show that we’re better than them and that we should be in the top 10,” Srock said.
Nagel also praised his Jerome Bettis-clone tailback in Heers. He mentioned how he knows teams will key in him, causing Newfane to have a game plan of getting to the edges.
The prolific runner was able to bounce back from being shaken up in the first half and really closed things out with the bulk of his 112 yards coming in the second half.
Lastly, Nagel was sure to acknowledge that this team’s success was paved by past Panther teams.
“As far as turning the program around, I couldn’t do any of this without those boys, those coaches. Our 2017 team, it’s worth mentioning, I told our boys they paved the way,” Nagel said of that 6-2 squad. “They’re the ones that made people in this town believe that we can win in Section VI Class B.”
With system they’ve been running for four years and a staff they believe in, this year’s Panthers are set up to make noise into late October.
For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow him on Twitter @riri_demos.