Tray Thompson felt inspired.
A host of players from Lockport’s 2003 Section VI Class AA championship team was in attendance to be honored at halftime. During pre-game warm-ups, Thompson knew he and the rest of his current Lions teammates needed to execute in front of the past greats as a sectional playoff spot was on the line when the Lions squared off against Williamsville North.
All Thompson needed was to have the ball in his hands to deliver for Lockport, as he did with an 82-yard kickoff return touchdown to cut the Spartans’ deficit to 21-14 just 17 seconds into the second half. But he wasn’t done and had a “Tray Day” for Lockport fans to remember.
With under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Thompson caught a 33-yard touchdown catch and then, following a Spartans turnover on downs, completed the trifecta with the game-winning two-yard rushing score with 1:30 remaining for Lockport’s 28-24 comeback win Saturday at Max Lederer Stadium.
The victory, a fourth in a row, helped Lockport (5-3) clinch the No. 2 seed in Class A1 and sets up a Class A quarterfinal against Grand Island, the program’s second sectional postseason appearance in three seasons.
Thompson missed the first meeting with the Vikings one week ago — a 16-8 victory for the Lions — and, as a result, he was eager to contribute to the team again. Showing emotion as the final buzzer went off, Thompson appreciated his teammates trusting him in crunch time, like the game-winning score, which he noted was his favorite play of the game.
“My strength and training coach told me if I got the ball, just go north and I was just repeating that in my head,” said Thompson on the rushing score, just his third on the season. “I got hte ball and just went north, honestly, instead of trying to kick it out. I saw a hole and kept fighting while there was guys on my legs and I just scored, man. Unbelievable, honestly. I thank my (offensive) line for just blocking.”
The message at halftime from head coach Trait Smith was not quitting on the family, even when the times got tough.
Williamsville North had control of the game in the first half, including a game-opening, 65-yard, 11:06 drive that led to sophomore quarter AJ Weissenburg finding senior tight end Jacob Lozo for a 6-yard touchdown pass for the 7-0 lead. The duo would connect again at the 6:48 mark of the second quarter for North’s 14-0 lead.
In contrast, Lockport only ran seven offensive plays up until the nine-minute mark of the second quarter but started heating up as Schultz threw his first of two touchdown passes on the day to Shey Williams from 28 yards out with 1:25 left (14-7).
That was moments before Weissenburg threw his third and final touchdown pass to senior running back DJ Leonard with 43.5 seconds remaining in the first half for the 21-7 lead for the visitors.
From Smith’s point of view, it was another game of “Tray being Tray” in the offense with the kick-off return touchdown providing a “big boost” for the entire Lions team.
“That was probably the play of the game,” Smith said. “… Tray got everybody back together with his experience and his brothers blocked for him and he did what he had to do.”
Even Williamsville North, who was looking for its fifth win in the last six contests, and its head coach Paul Palizay felt the momentum shift following Thompson’s kick-off return. This was still felt even as the Spartans held a 24-14 lead thanks to Ronaldo Le’s 25-yard field goal with 5:19 left to play. The kick-off return was, as Palizay explained, a breakdown in the team’s coverage, and led to Lockport maintaining its physical approach.
“They played the same game they always play,” Palizay said. “They’re fast. They’re physical. They like to hit, super athletic and they’re a challenge. They’re a challenge to cover and they persevered. They got back and the kick return really helped set them up.”