Class AA Preview: Ken West vs. Orchard Park
The fifth of September may have passed two months ago but for Kenmore West, the sting still feels like yesterday.
The Blue Devils will play at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Friday night, where they’ll compete in a Section VI football championship for the first time in 19 years. To finish the job and become Class AA champions, they have the daunting task of going through Orchard Park---both the town and it’s decorated high school football team.
It won’t be easy.
The teams met in the season opener on September 5th in Orchard Park and it was barely a contest. The Orchard Park Quakers shut down, literally the vaunted Blue Devils offense in a 28-0 blanking. In fact, the only thing to contain Orchard Park that evening was an extensive lightning delay.
That alone makes this Friday evening (8pm) a revenge game for Kenmore West. However, that’s not where Ken West’s agony with Orchard Park ends. Their dreams of playing at the Ralph last year came to a halt in the semifinals at the hands of Orchard Park—a game the Blue Devils led with under three minutes remaining before losing in heartbreaking fashion 25-20.
Regarded as one of, if not the frontrunner for Western New York high school football player of the year, Ken West’s all-purpose back Terrell Ford was treated by the Orchard Park defense as just another player back in September. Ford caught five passes for 93 yards but was stymied to just 31 rushing yards on 16 carries in their first meeting.
Plenty has changed since then.
Ken-West used the humbling setback as fuel for redemption. Feeling disrespected over one loss, they pretty much ran roughshod over opponents for the rest of the regular season and two playoff wins, outscoring them 349-100.
Ford has been at the forefront. The senior has amassed 1,630 yards and 25 touchdowns this year. But it’s hardly been a solo effort. The Blue Devils have several players on both sides of the ball capable of making big plays (see below).
Orchard Park went undefeated in Section VI play this year, losing only to Pittsford in early October. That streak includes running over Clarence (48-25) and Niagara Falls (35-14) en route to playing for a Section VI football title for a 17th time. The Quakers haven’t won a Class AA crown since 2012, which ended a run of seven titles over nine years. They’re hungry too.
Junior quarterback Dillon Janca poses as big a threat with his arm than anyone in Western New York. Janca has thrown for 2,099 yards and 22 touchdowns this season and often made it look easy. His most frequent target is Chris Liberatore, who has 47 catches for 699 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
Liberatore caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Janca the first time the teams played.
Ronnie Schul, Corey McPoland and Soloman Brown anchor a strong Quakers defense.
Why Ken-West Will Win: No one in WNY will make you pay for a mistake more than Ford. If you miss a gap on defense and/or do anything that gets him going full tilt in open space, it’s costing you six points. Ford is the prototype home run hitter. The Blue Devils also possess in an incredibly stout defense, particularly against the run. Charlie Milks is a tackling machine at linebacker. Tyler White, Mark Taylor and Jayson Taylor also emerged as forces on the defensive side of the ball. Xavier Balsano had a few keys stops in the Lancaster victory.
Why Ken-West Is In Trouble: Can the ankle of quarterback DeAngelo Walker-Johnson hold up? He’s been battling a bad ankle for most the season and re-aggravated it against Lancaster last week. With him out, the Blue Devils had success with Ford as the wildcat quarterback against Lancaster last week, but that exclusively won’t work against the Quakers. Walker-Johnson needs to be on the field and an asset to the offense with both his arm and legs. The pass defense also has question marks. They were carved up by Orchard Park in their first meeting and last week there were open plays left on the field by Lancaster in the passing game. Don’t expect that to happen against the Quakers. They’re going to need to find a way to get pressure on Janca. If they don’t, Ken-West is in big trouble.
Why Orchard Park Will Win: Confidence certainly won’t be an issue. The Quakers rolled in the season opener, 28-0 and did it convincingly. Janca completed 15-of-31 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns that game, with the majority of the damage coming in the first half. As long as Janca gets time to throw they can do damage through the air. Defensively the Quakers have a star in Ronnie Shul but many underrated defenders capable of making life difficult for a talented but undersized Ken-West offense.
Why Orchard Park Is In Trouble: How much adversity have the Quakers really faced this year? They’ve had very few problems with Section VI opponents and Ken-West has all the motivation in the world. Does Orchard Park get a little rattled if the game is close late? The Quakers are as fundamentally sound and well coached as anyone, but they don’t have anyone athletically who can compare with a Terrell Ford. If Ken-West coach Rich Harris and his staff can draw up plays to get Ford in open space, the potential for it to become a nightmare to the defense is certainly there. Orchard Park is good…very good, but they’re not unbeatable.
The Ken-West X-Factor: Mark Taylor had a key interception and 55-yard reception last week against Lancaster. Orchard Park will undoubtedly key on and expend heavy resources to stopping Ford. That could open the door for Taylor to make some big plays.
The Orchard Park X-Factor: The Blue Devils are going to heavily key on trying to contain the Orchard Park passing game. That could leave significant holes for running back Josh Dahl to feast on.
For The Winner: The team to come out on top represents Section VI in the Regional Finals against a Section V team at Sahlen’s Stadium (Rochester) on Sunday November 15th at 4:00pm.