Numbers game favors Unity
There is no more of a telling story about Unity’s football team, and its success this season, than the numbers.
There will be 54 players on the travel roster for Saturday’s Class 3A playoff game at unbeaten and second-ranked Williamsville.
Twenty-seven of those players have started at least one game this season. When the 2 p.m. quarterfinal game kicks off, fifth-ranked Unity (10-1) will have one two-way starter, Conner Grace. The junior running back is also a starting free safety. On offense, however, he alternates in the backfield by series with Mitch Negangard.
Keeping players fresh and rested could be a key against the Bullets, whose defense fared better than any other school’s during the regular season. Williamsville allowed two touchdowns entering the postseason and has yielded one since starting the playoffs.
For the second year in a row, coach Aaron Kunz’s team is 11-0. “We’ve seen a lot of different defenses and can adjust to a lot of different things,” Unity coach Scott Hamilton said. “We haven’t seen many defenses like this. Their two defensive tackles and two inside linebackers are big, strong and move well.”
Hamilton has had access to plenty of game film on his upcoming opponent. “You almost end up with too much,” he said. “You can only watch and decipher so much.” He also will be careful about how much knowledge he shares with the team. “You want them to be instinctive,” he said. “You don’t want them to be robotic.”
Kunz is the second head coach in Williamsville’s 42 years of football. The first coach — his father-in-law, Paul Jenkins — coached 32 years. Kunz has a team in the quarterfinals for a third consecutive year.
Each of the past two seasons, the Bullets were ousted in a home game.
Hamilton isn’t at all concerned about his team’s three-turnover performance last week. “With the experience I’ve had coaching in the playoffs, you won’t play great every week,” Hamilton said. “The important thing is to find a way to play the next week.”
LeRoy’s program returning to form
B.J. Zeleznik thought life was good in his first year as head coach (2003) when he guided an unbeaten team into the Class 1A state title game.
Within four years, however, his team was suffering through the first of consecutive 3-6 seasons. “We had to re-evaluate what we were doing and make a lot of changes,” Zeleznik said. “If you’re not putting the work in, you can’t expect to be very good. We amped up the expectations, increased the PR in the elementary school and ran youth camps.”
The by-product is the current 11-0 team that has rewritten the school single-season scoring record (577 and counting).
The Panthers will host Concord Triopia (10-1) on Saturday in a Class 1A quarterfinal game.
Zeleznik sees similarities in this team and the 14-0 team from 1996, coached by his father, Jim, which won a state championship.
“Those teams are so explosive at the snap,” B.J. Zeleznik said. “When the ball is snapped, we’re going somewhere. You can’t substitute coming downhill and attacking. We take risks. We gamble, and we get caught sometimes.”
Without question, the coach credits “the growth of the offensive line,” for the team’s success. Three returning starters (tackle Ty Sandy and guards Brandon Bodine and Trevor Moberly) have been joined by two sophomores (center Caleb Spencer and tackle Brandon Woosley). Operating behind the line is a poised quarterback, Nic Stevens. “His attitude, his demeanor, managing the offense has been phenomenal,” B.J. Zeleznik said, “and when we give him a chance to throw, he is accurate and delivers the ball.”
The bulk of the offense has been centered around record-setting fullback Shane Bruning and halfbacks Cory Eastham (a converted lineman as a senior) and Austin Eddy.
Saturday’s contrast will be a Concord defense allowing 4.9 points per game (which has given up one TD since October started) against a LeRoy offense averaging 52.5 points per game. “More important might be what our defense can do against their offense,” Zeleznik said.