By CRAIG HARVEY
OBSERVER Sports Editor
SINCLAIRVILLE – When Chautauqua Lake and Maple Grove merged football programs, Maple Grove coach Curt Fischer was excited he would have Chautauqua Lake junior Ryan Miller on his team, opposed to coaching against him.
Saturday afternoon, the Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake running back got the visitors on the board early and often en route to a 56-0 thumping of Cassadaga Valley in a Class D high school football game.
In the first quarter alone, Miller scored three touchdowns.
The first touchdown came on the second play from scrimmage as Miller took the handoff up the middle, broke right and scampered 67 yards for a 7-0 lead. On the Thunder Dragons’ second possession, Miller once again scored on the second play from scrimmage in similar fashion, this time from 43 yards out.
And with 6 seconds left in the quarter, Miller hit paydirt again on a 19-yard score.
On the day, Miller finished with 154 yards on nine carries.
“If you ever watch him, he has so much wiggle,” Fischer said. “He can plant and cut. He is very durable. He is a very, very nice player.”
On the first play of the second quarter, MG/CL’s Jed Micek tallied the first of three MG/CL interceptions. However, on the ensuing possession, Cassadaga Valley’s Tyler Rendell intercepted a pass at his team’s 1-yard line.
“At that point, we wanted to convince the kids we can do everything we normally do,” Fischer said about attempting to throw the ball in the rainy conditions. “Weather shouldn’t stop us from what we normally do.”
Pinned up against their own end zone, the Cougars could not move the ball and the Thunder Dragons’ Dustin Graziano sacked Cassadaga Valley quarterback Anthony Miller in the end zone for a safety and a 21-0 lead.
It didn’t take the visitors long to increase the lead as a three-play drive was capped off by a 28-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Mayer to Jonah Tanner for a 28-0 lead.
The Cougars got their second first down of the game midway through the second quarter on a 13-yard run from Zach Mower. However, the drive was halted by MG/CL’s Brian Westerdahl as he intercepted a batted pass and returned it to the Cassadaga Valley 12-yard line. From there, it took four plays before A.J. Hulton scored on a 3-yard plunge for the commanding 35-0 lead.
Before the half was over, the visitors tacked on another touchdown as Tanner found Hulton in the back of the end zone on a half-back option pass for the 42-0 halftime lead.
“I have always thought it’s still the first half, you should be able to do anything you want,” Fischer said about getting one more touchdown before halftime. “That’s why we threw that. We have to work on stuff. It’s a long season to go. We ran the ball in the second half and did what we had to do.”
A key reason for MG/CL’s success was the dominance of the offensive and defensive line. Because the Thunder Dragons were so dominant at the line of scrimmage offensively, Fischer only had his team run “a few different plays” the entire game.
“When the offensive line blocks that well – (Cassadaga Valley) was bringing everyone in the box – and I thought we did a great job of picking up all the blitzes,” Fischer said. “Our fullbacks A.J. Hulton and Mitch Sandberg were unbelievable blocking.”
After a scoreless third quarter, MG/CL scored twice more in the final 12 minutes.
The first score came at the 8:39 mark as Westerdahl scored from 15-yards out on a read option play. And for good measure, Josh Bradford capped the scoring for the 56-0 victory.
“We can do everything better,” Cassadaga Valley coach Nick Spitzer lamented afterwards. “We can block better, tackle better, all the way around. Pass protection has to be better, routes need to be run better, everything has to be better. We just couldn’t get anything going today. We were very flat and didn’t come to play. Absolutely, 100 percent, did not come to play the game. It’s real tough because there is nothing you can do about it. I can pump up guys and do a nice pregame speech, but in the end, you the player, has to be motivated to go out there and do a good job for your team and we didn’t do that today.”
Notes: Jonah Tanner and Chandler Baker led the Thunder Dragons defense with nine tackles. Mitch Sandberg and Micek each had eight tackles while Westerdahl had two interceptions for the victors.