Won't soon be forgotten

John D'Onofrio

With all due respect to the historic, annual T-NT game each year, the greatest high school football rivalry in these parts is a few more miles to the north.

No, I'm not talking about the annual Lockport-Starpoint rivalry contest, which lacks only in longevity to rank among the best in this area. I'm referring to two of our Niagara-Orleans small schools, Newfane and Wilson.

The Panthers and Lakemen competed Friday night in an epic grid iron battle under the lights at Walter J. Hutchison Field in a sporting event that those attending won't soon forget.

So what was so memorable about a 16-13 grid contest?

It had everything — beginning with a massive, vocal, restless crowd of supporters (estimated to be about 1,500) from both schools, outstanding, veteran coaches, big plays on both sides of the ball by star players on each team, hard hitting, last second scores and a determination by each team to keep the game within reach throughout.

It was Senior Night and Homecoming at the Hutch, so the game began with the traditional honoring of Wilson seniors, accompanied by their parents and guardians, while statements were read over the public address system expressing each graduating senior's thanks and hopes for the future.

Besides a large contingent of football fans, also attending were dozens of coaches and administrators from both school districts and making sure everything was running smoothly was Wilson's outstanding AD Jeff Roth.

Neither team held back, especially the coaches, with Newfane's Chuck Nagel and Wilson's Bill Atlas going for it on fourth down throughout most the game, regardless of their field position.

Words were exchanged and tempers flared at times, but that's to be expected when you're playing against your neighbors and life-long friends.

You couldn't turn your back on the game because big plays came out of nowhere, with Newfane's heart and soul Jaden Heers (20 carries, 104 yards) breaking away for a long touchdown run and Wilson countering with a TD on a punt miscue as big DeClan Faery pounced on the football in the end zone. What would have been Faery's second TD of the game, a spectacular diving catch in the end zone, was called back on a penalty.

It was 7-7 at halftime and remained that way after three quarters.

The visiting Panthers took a temporary 10-7 lead with just over two minutes left in the game thanks to their quarterback and kicker, senior Garrett Srock. But with the noise deafening around the entire complex, Wilson's Thomas Baia, one of those seniors honored before the game, booted a clutch, 30-yard field goal in the closing seconds to send the game into OT.

But Srock not only kicked a late fourth quarter field goal for the Panthers, he split the uprights on a 38-yard kick that temporary gave the Panthers a 13-10 lead in overtime.

But on their final possession in OT, Wilson, led by their outstanding senior quarterback Robert Atlas, marched in for the winning score with Drew “Westy” Westmoreland running south for the winning 1-yard touchdown.

How big was this victory? Check out Westy's reaction to winning the game on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7. His excitement says it all.

While Wilson celebrated enthusiastically, there was disappointment for sure on the Newfane side, but it was tempered by the feeling that both teams had given their all.

And that's the essence of the rivalry — players from top to bottom on both teams stepping up to make big plays as if it was their last play in their last game, then shaking hands after the game with the many familiar faces on both teams that they grew up with.

Wilson chalked up the win on paper Friday night, but both both communities and their surrounding villages are holding their heads high and talking proudly about one of the greatest Newfane-Wilson match-ups in any sport.

T-NT is great, especially this year, with Tonawanda winning for the first time in almost two decades, but let's be honest: when a team loses to another for 17 straight years and finally beats them, that's not quite a “rivalry,” that's an “upset.”

Friday's Newfane-Wilson contest was not only a nail-biter from start to finish, showcasing the best of two neighboring high schools, it was an instant classic — a continuation of a rivalry in the truest sense of the word.

Follow US&J sports reporter and editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.

Recommended for you