The Portville and Pioneer football teams had already established themselves as class heavyweights.
Indeed, entering Friday, both squads were riding impressive win streaks, with the maroon and white Panthers having won 11-straight and 13 of their last 14 regular season games (including two forfeits) dating back to 2018 while the black and green Panthers had taken seven in a row and 21 of 22 such contests since 2017. And in Week 2, both kept those streaks intact, with Portville grinding out a 14-0 road triumph over Timon-St. Jude and Pioneer wearing down East Aurora/Holland, 21-14.
If these first two weeks are any indication, however, they have some (relatively new) company in the upper-echelon of New York’s Big 30 programs:
Salamanca and Randolph.
After a pair of convincing Week 1 wins, both provided further proof that they’re “for real” over the weekend, as the Warriors knocked off Class C power Southwestern (typically a good indication for anybody that they’ve arrived in some capacity) on a last-second two-point conversion and the Cardinals thrice held two-score leads in a 36-26 win over defending Class D champion Franklinville/Ellicottville.
FOR TWO historically proud programs, a budding return to prominence has, perhaps, been a long time coming.
After a mostly prosperous stretch (at least in terms of regular-season success) from 2011-13, in which it went 19-6, Salamanca hit a prolonged rough-to-mediocre period, following an unsightly 1-16 (2015, ‘16) mark with a couple of .500ish seasons that overlapped with the arrival of former program great Chad Bartoszek as new head coach.
Under Bartoszek’s direction, though, the Warriors have slowly but surely made the climb back to the top tier, going from 4-5 with a playoff win in his first campaign, to 4-3 with a surprise trip to the Section 6 Class D championship game last spring, to a 2-0 start in 2021, including an early win over the league favorites.
Randolph, meanwhile, had enjoyed one of the best eras in local annals at the start of last decade, going an incredible 36-3 with three-straight New York State Class D championships from 2012-14 while transitioning between long-time coach Pat Slater and current boss Brent Brown. What followed, however, was a mostly (by their standards) average stretch between 2015-20, the lowlight coming last spring when, with a young and overmatched roster, the Cardinals struggled to a 2-4 mark.
But with just about everybody back, and that familiar Randolph “culture” seemingly back in place, Brown’s team has responded accordingly, trouncing JFK, 47-0, before claiming a key league battle with the Titans.
Salamanca is now 2-0 for the first time since 2014. Randolph, interestingly, is 2-0 for the first time since its middle state title season, when it went a perfect 13-0 in Brown’s first year. But how has each gotten here?
FOR THE Warriors, a staunch defense has been as big a factor as any.
That group has gone from giving up an average of 30 points per game in Bartoszek’s first year, to just 16 last season to surrendering just three total touchdowns in eight quarters so far this fall (10.5 points per). The magnum opus, to this point, might have been limiting an explosive team to just 13 points on Friday (or limiting F/E to a TD in a 7-0 loss in a regular season game last spring).
“Aaron Hill, (Dustin) Ross and (Paul) Furlong, they've got these kids tuned up,” Bartoszek said Friday of his defensive coaches. “When we first started and he (Hill) switched over some defensive coverages, during practice we used to find holes. In the spring the holes got smaller. And in this practice session, we haven't been able to find holes; our second team versus our (defense), there's just not a lot of holes out there.
“We don't make a ton of mistakes and that's just the repetition from our defensive staff. I don’t take any credit for the defense, those guys do an awesome job.”
THE CARDINALS, meanwhile, have begun to win again in true Randolph fashion: With a good defense and a strong ground game behind what’s almost always one of the top offensive lines in the area.
In doing so, junior running back Xander Hind has gotten off to one of the best individual starts on either side of the Big 30 border, following up a three-touchdown, 191-yard effort against JFK with an all-timer: An incredible 44 carries for 330 yards, four touchdowns and a two-point conversion in Friday’s win over F/E.
According to Friday’s game story in the Jamestown Post Journal, Hind has drawn inspiration from former all-state Randolph running back and 2013 Big 30 Player of the Year Chris Doubek, the workhorse of those state title teams.
“He’s been telling me all year long, ‘I can do it, I can do it,” Brown said of Hind, who’d been watching film on Doubek and expressed his desire to carry the ball 30-plus times a game. “He wants the ball. He kept saying he was fresh. He ran hard.”
With Friday’s wins, Salamanca and Randolph have officially declared themselves as title contenders in Class C and D, respectively. They also moved up in MaxPreps’ Section 6 football rankings, with the Warriors now at No. 12 and the Cardinals at No. 18 (Pioneer sits at No. 16 while F/E still comes in at No. 21 following a tough loss; Portville, at 2-0, curiously checks in at No. 26).