YOUNGSTOWN — Albion coach Tony Osburn felt his team turned a corner in the second half of a game against Class B North powerhouse Cheektowaga three weeks ago. Despite a 34-20 loss, Osburn was happy with the way his offense dictated play late in the game, and how the positive vibe was able to spread to the defense and special teams.
The Purple Eagles kept things rolling with blowout wins over Newfane and Maryvale, carrying plenty of momentum into Friday night's pivotal Class B North matchup at Lew-Port. Both teams were locked in a four-way tie for third place in the league at 2-2, vying for the place inside the top four that provides advancement to sectional play.
Albion came out strong against Lew-Port, dictating play with a strong ground game and high-quality performances along the offensive line. Tailback Ed Wolfe led the way with 125 yards on 20 carries, as the Purple Eagles controlled the clock and field position for most of the game. It wasn't the fanciest game in the world, but in the end the result was just fine. Albion won 14-6, moving to 3-2 in the league and keeping control of its destiny for sectional qualification.
"I think there were two great football teams on that field, both well-coached," Albion head coach Tony Osburn said. "Sometimes it comes down to a couple of plays, and hopefully the stands on both sides enjoyed it."
The verdict was nowhere near certain until the very end, as Lew-Port mounted a last-ditch drive with under five minutes to play, trailing 7-6. The Lancers moved to their own 44 on a third-and-nine conversion with 2:45 to play that drew rabid appreciation from the Homecoming night crowd, but started to stall when deep passes on first and second down fell incomplete.
But on third-and-10 with 2:02 remaining, Albion junior defensive back Manny Thompson came up with the play of the game, and one of the plays of the year in local high school sports.
Thompson stepped in front of a deep pass thrown by Lew-Port sophomore quarterback Donald Allender, intercepting the ball at the 30-yard line and zig-zagging his way across the field, running 70 yards into the end zone as the Purple Eagles sideline went nuts.
The ensuing extra point gave Albion a 14-6 lead, and Lew-Port couldn't do anything with its last chance in the final two minutes.
"We scored on defense, and no matter whether you're in high school college or the NFL, when you score on defense or special teams it makes a difference," Osburn said. "Tonight's difference-maker was a defensive pick-six."
Lew-Port opened the scoring in the second quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by Carmine Zurillo, but the Lancers got pushed back to the 15-yard line on the point-after try due to multiple penalties, failing to convert. The crowd got particularly excited just before the PAT try, when a fan wearing green underwear and a green mask ran all the way across the field before being chased by security.
Albion quickly struck back later in the quarter, as Wolfe anchored a lengthy drive with nine runs for 58 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown run that tied the game at six. The successful extra-point try gave the Purple Eagles a 7-6 lead that they carried into halftime, and held all the way until Thompson's game-sealing pick-six.
Albion quarterback John Warne wasn't asked to do much but was efficient enough in going 5-for-12 passing for 52 yards, including three completions to Des Blackmon for 31 yards. Brett Zicari led the Purple Eagles with 12 tackles, while Steven Stauss had 11 and Jon Trembley had 10. Aaron Mulrey had nine, and Kollin Reynolds had nine.
Albion concludes the regular season this Friday in a home matchup against Medina. The Purple Eagles can secure a berth in sectional play with a win, a stark improvement from last year's 2-6 campaign.
Osburn has said all season long that the team doesn't like to talk about last year, and the strategy has certainly proved effective in the team's current three-game winning streak. The Purple Eagles are playing strong football on both the offensive and defensive sides — and it all started in the second half at Cheektowaga.
"We made some adjustments at halftime and held them to six points," Osburn said. "We made plays when we needed to. It's Medina week — we'll enjoy this for about an hour, when we're riding back down Route 104, and then it's Medina week."