Already booked for state duals Saturday in Syracuse, Niagara Wheatfield couldn’t look too far ahead as the next opponent was in its backyard.
The Falcons still needed enough energy for its final tune-up, a Niagara Frontier League dual with Niagara Falls, with the 11th annual Niagara Cup up for grabs.
Entering the latest matchup, Niagara Falls won the hardware in three of the last four seasons before Niagara Wheatfield took home the title last year. But along with chasing the hardware came another caveat as the Falcons and Wolverines are in the heart of the race for the NFL banner itself.
In a battle of league unbeatens, Niagara Wheatfield came out on top with a 45-16 victory Wednesday at Niagara Falls High School. The victory now has the Falcons at 6-0 in league action with Niagara Falls behind at 6-1.
Due to the snowstorm that came through Western New York last week, Niagara Wheatfield still has to face North Tonawanda. A loss to the 3-2 Lumberjacks would mean Niagara Wheatfield and Niagara Falls would tie for the league title.
Even with the scenarios still up for grabs, the camaraderie between the two programs was showcased after the Falcons’ victory, exchanging laughs and hand-shakes.
“To win (the Niagara Cup) is big,” Niagara Wheatfield head coach Rick Sweney said. “We always want to be on top. … At the end, we come together and say a little prayer. We’re happy. Everybody’s friends. It’s nice to have competition without (having bad) blood and all of that.”
The chase for the league banner has come down to the Falcons and Wolverines every year since 2018, the last time Grand Island won. The Wolverines entered the dual after stacking up double-digit wins against Lockport and North Tonawanda and a narrow 34-31 win over Ken-Ton on Jan. 23.
The Falcons, meanwhile, won its first five league duals, all by 40 points or more, before arriving to the Cataract City. But even with a pair of forfeit wins at 116 pounds and 124 pounds, the core of Niagara Wheatfield’s roster went to work, even though it wasn’t fully healthy.
Through a combination of speed and strength, the Falcons started off the dual with a pin from Jacob Sweeney at 108. Despite a decision victory from Niagara Falls’ Kaedin Feagin over Evan Azbell at 131, Niagara Wheatfield stayed the course with the early approach in the lightweights.
“We probably knew most of what was going to happen pretty much,” Sweney said. “We weren’t sure about the 285, only one wasn’t for sure. And at 160, (with Dylan Pringle), we were trying to win that one but he got hurt. Everything else could have went either way.”
Garrett Chase was ecstatic after the win as it was the first time Niagara Wheatfield defeated Niagara Falls in a road dual in his five-year career. His 8-3 decision over Reggie McCreary at 138 was a turning point of the match for the Falcons, who won five of the last seven matches.
After being limited with an arm injury he suffered in the Gowanda tournament, Chase used his match as a litmus test ahead of states Saturday. Having another trophy case to add in Sanborn with the Niagara Cup is also another plus, while facing those he works out with during the summer.
“We’ve been around all summer with each other forever, so, I think, it’s just we just know each other more,” Chase said. “And we’re right down the road from each other 10 minutes away. There’s a rivalry. And I think having a rivalry no matter how different the teams are, it’s just always gonna be close with the rivalry.”