WILSON — Nobody said getting to New Era Field would be easy.
Class C North’s No. 1 seed in Wilson won a back-and-forth affair with C South’s No. 2 seed Portville, 26-21, Friday night. The win helped the Lakemen earn their third overall berth to a Section VI championship game and the first since 1990.
This game started fast, with Drew Westmorland taking the opening kickoff to paydirt from 86 yards out. Portville (7-2, 5-1 C South) would respond with a Jayden Lassiter TD run, which was the beginning of a strong stretch for the Panthers.
The Lakemen would then shoot themselves in the foot, muffing back-to-back kickoff returns, which led to the Panthers taking a 14-7 lead on a second Lassiter TD run.
Wilson (9-0, 5-0 C North) would answer quickly though, after QB Bobby Atlas (9-18, 115 yards, 3 TDs) found his favorite target in Declan Faery (7 receptions, 62 yards, TD) to tie the game at 14 heading into the half.
Portville QB Hunter Griffin got in on the fun after halftime, linking with Blake George on a grip-and-rip fade ball on fourth down to put the Panthers up by a score.
Wilson would have its own wild fourth down sequence later on - Atlas appeared to fumble the ball into the end zone (which was recovered by Ben Mahar), but it was then ruled a rushing TD for the senior field general. All seemed lost after this though, following Thomas Baia’s missed PAT.
That’s when the Lakemen D took over, giving their offense one last chance after sacking Griffin on another fourth-down play to give Wilson the ball back with 2:20 left to go. Enter Atlas and Julian Andreola (3 receptions, 93 receiving yards, TD) playing the star roles.
On a third-down conversion, Atlas saw a streaking Andreola lined up in the slot, and 66-yards later Wilson was up 26-21 with 1:22 to play.
Then it was Faery’s turn to step in as the role of leading man. Having already made his presence felt on O and D, the senior stud deflected a Griffin pass and intercepted it himself to seal the deal.
On a play that will be immortalized in Lakemen history, the 2018 all-state selection was able to diagnose the play post-game.
“I just saw he was going back to throw. (I) just tried to jump up,” Faery said. “Get my hands on the ball. (Once) I saw it went straight up, just go make a play.”
It has been a special season for Faery and his Lakemen, especially accomplishing a feat that the team’s defensive coordinator and his father, Matt, was able to do when he played for Wilson.
“I mean, it’s the first time it’s happened since my dads played,” Declan said. “ ... it’s just an incredible feeling just to get that opportunity. I’m just hyped for that game.”
The younger Faery was just about as speechless as Wilson head coach Bill Atlas was. But to see his team fight back from losing both of his RBs in Westmorland and Brayden Dunlap, the struggles from his highly-reliable kicker, and being down throughout the game, Atlas knew his kids were prepared for the moment.
“We’ve has a couple crazy games. That Newfane overtime (win) was similar there, our guys just don’t quit. We planned for these,” Atlas said, referring to the team’s two-minute drill.
“ ... our run games been our focus, and we didn’t run that well but we always plan for this. Now, it might only come up once a year, every two years. Our two-minute drive against Newfane and right there. We plan for that. So it’s just some great execution by some great, great kids that didn’t want to quit.”
Atlas wanted to acknowledge his junior varsity coach Dan Lucinski too for getting some young guys ready on that level, before playing Friday night and filling in to help with the win.
“And I really mean it when I say to them,” Atlas said. “That’s a full-team win, a full-program win right there, from top to bottom.”
The Wilson D has been strong all year and was able to hold Portville to just 267 yards in the game. This will be a formula needed to help take down Southwestern in the title game.
The Lakemen do battle with the Trojans for the sectional crown at 6:30 p.m. next week Saturday at New Era Field.
For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow him on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, tune in to Khari as a guest on Tony Caligiuri’s ‘Inside High School Sports,’ 10 a.m. Saturdays on WGR550.