Those of whom braved the smothering heat and the sun’s grumpy refusal to go down on Friday night for the first high school football game of the season at Greenway, had likely heard all summer that the Allegany Campers mean business this fall. What they saw was the first of what Allegany plans on being many installments of playing to its adopted “Take it Personal” mantra on the heels of 5-5 and 3-7 seasons. Regrettably for the Southern Rams, they were viewed by the boys in blue as the first past offender, even though Allegany hasn’t lost to Southern in 12 years.
In last season’s opener, which Allegany won 24-21, the Southern offensive line kept the Rams in the game by enabling the running game to sustain drives, often times winning at the point of attack. In this season’s opener, won by Allegany, 56-6, the only attacks were perpetuated by Allegany — special teams, offense and defense, and with a confident body language not seen in blue parts for a few years.
When linebacker Madison Wolford intercepted a pass on the third offensive play of the game and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown, Alco fans were likely thinking it was deja vu all over again. Except it was Madison Wolford this year intercepting Southern’s first pass of the season and returning it to the end zone for Allegany’s first score of the season; not Daquan McGraw, who covered 75 yards for the Alco touchdown on his interception against Southern last year. Not only that, this year Wolford and his classmates, who were on hand for McGraw’s big play a year ago, are seniors, who want no part of what they were party to in the weeks that followed the season-opening victory when they were juniors.
Allegany head coach Tom Preaskorn said over the summer, “Winning is contagious and so is losing. We have to get the attitude straightened out. We have to get senior leadership, we have to get the proper mindset. And if the senior leadership comes through, we can have a great season.”
Preaskorn also said, “What I like is the competition on the practice field. We have some players who have been two-year starters, but they’re being pushed by the junior class. There are a lot of skill kids and good athletes, but we’re not handing anything out. They’re going to have to earn it. They’re going to have to compete, and they are.”
It was only the first game, but so far so good, as the seniors seniored, the juniors kept pushing and together took matters into their own hands in handing it out and earning it against the Rams.
“We’ve been preaching to the seniors, ‘This is your senior year. You need to pick it up.’ ” Preaskorn said after the game. “And the junior class is right there pushing them. There wasn’t much of a drop-off tonight with (halfback Dalton) Golliday, (halfback Brady) Hillegas and (quarterback) Trenton Eirich in there. I couldn’t be more pleased with the team effort. That’s what it’s going to take.”
Wolford, senior halfback, led the Campers in rushing with 101 yards on six carries. Carter Imes, senior quarterback, passed for 84 yards and a touchdown, while senior halfback Christian Thomas accounted for 81 yards of total offense. The juniors, though, were not about to be overlooked, as Golliday produced a 67-yard touchdown run and Hillegas a 20-yard scoring run, with Eirich comfortably directing the offense in the second half.
Competition for playing time provides an edge any coach loves to see because it makes practice time productive time. But Preaskorn doesn’t see the junior class push on his team as being cutthroat; he sees it as constructive, a means of creating a winning edge and what coaches like to call ownership in the team.
“Everybody contributed,” he said, “and they played united to ensure each other was successful. Now we have to build on it.”
The feeling here is Southern is going to have a good football team this season. Friday night, though, after their ill-fated screen pass led to the Campers’ first score, the Rams were merely unfortunate winners of front-row seats to Allegany’s opening night performance that would have earned five stars from even the most cynical critic.
It was an unfortunate evening for Southern and potentially a very profitable one for the Campers. The Rams actually might just want to forget about looking at the tape of this one, put it behind them and begin anew, since what happened on Friday night had very little to do with them. The Campers on the other hand, if they are serious about repaying old debts, will be wise to follow the advice of their coach and keep competing, keep pushing and keep building on it.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at email@example.com