MIDDLEPORT — If Roy-Hart/Barker’s win over Burgard/Performing Arts was a surprise, nobody told C.J. Knight.
After a 31-0 shellacking in Friday’s season opener at Bruno Pacini Stadium, there was no extended celebration, hooting or hollering in the postgame huddle. The Bulls treated it like just another win.
But it wasn’t an ordinary win.
It was Knight’s first win in his first game as a varsity head coach, and more importantly, a signal to the rest of Class C North that Roy-Hart/Barker was no longer a predetermined win. If a team wants to beat the Bulls, they are going to have to earn it.
Roy-Hart/Barker didn’t just stymie or harass the Burgard offense, it battered the Bulldogs in a dominant defensive performance that included seven sacks and didn’t allow a first down until there were 5 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“We put in so much work in the offseason that this was the expectation Week 1,” Knight said. “So we’re just going to build off this, move from this, grow from this and look to move into Newfane next week and do the same thing.”
When Wyatt Sherman went down with an injury — and did not return — early in the game, it could have been a devastating blow to the offense as a running back and the defense. But Jackson West shifted from nose tackle to defensive end and made sure Roy-Hart/Barker — playing in its first game as a co-op since 2017 and merging with Lyndonville the last three years — remained relentless in pursuit of Burgard quarterback Najai Starks.
“They weren’t ready for my skill,” West said. “They thought I was a bigger guy, so they didn’t think I was going to be that quick. But I shut them down.”
West was the catalyst of the Bulls’ pressure, recording three sacks, including two in the first half. Not only did West play a pivotal role in stopping Burgard, he also set up Roy-Hart/Barker’s first touchdown of the game.
The junior recorded a sack on third down and then broke through the line to get one of his meaty palms on Marquevious Bradley’s punt, deflecting it toward the Burgard goal line. Luey Castro scooped up the loose ball, but it was punched out while he raced downfield, and Caleb Alexander fell on it for a touchdown.
“I was getting concerned because we weren’t moving the ball,” Knight said. “But all it takes in football is one big play to get that momentum and internal motivation going. That blocked punt really got us started. The sideline got hyped up, the stands got hyped up and there was a switch that flipped in our guys and it was just a takeover from there.”
While Roy-Hart/Barker’s defense was stifling, the offense took some time to get revved up. A muffed punt on the ensuing possession set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Aidan Mescall, but the Bulls still struggled to find a consistent rhythm.
The biggest play of the first half came when sophomore Tysen McCaa scrambled to find Dan Aquilina open for a 28-yard gain. But the most critical play was a simple pitch to Mescall and third and 1.
Mescall darted outside, cut inside and sliced through the Burgard defense for an 11-yard touchdown run to give Roy-Hart/Barker a 21-0 lead with 43 seconds left before halftime. Mescall would add a third score on a halfback option pass, leaping in the air to deliver a 30-yard pass on target to Anthony Adinolfe in the third quarter.
“(Mescall) is a hell of an athlete, man,” Knight said. “… That was deflating on their end, but inflating for us.”
Roy-Hart/Barker travels to Newfane at 7 p.m. Sept. 8. Burgard hosts Iroquois at 7 p.m. Thursday, at Riverside High School.