by Jim Riggs
December 1, 2001
Red Raiders’ Three-Peat Was Remarkable
The state high school football championships begin today at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse and we have no area teams involved. However, two came close.
Last Sunday in the state semifinals, Clymer was defeated in Class D and Salamanca lost in Class C. They were trying to make it to the state title game for the second time as each lost in its first appearance in 1999.
The only other area Class D team to make it to the title game was Maple Grove, which won in 1998.
So not only is winning a state title a rarity, but also just making it to the championship game.
That made me recall how remarkable it was that Jamestown participated in three straight Class A state title games and won the last two. Then the Red Raiders returned last season at the AA level and won again. So they participated in four state title games in eight years and won three.
At the time when Jamestown’s three straight title game appearances occurred, it didn’t seem so remarkable. But that might be because it all seemed to happen so quickly.
“It’s probably the farther you get away from the feat it makes it more amazing,” Jamestown coach Wally Huckno said earlier this week. “It got to a point where we thought that was the thing to do each year and so did everyone else. People in town were telling me they were making reservations for Syracuse.”
And that was before the season began.
“You would assume we would have enough sense to stop going, but we went the three years and then last year, so four times is really unheard of,” he said.
Looking back, it’s a feat that might never be matched by an area team. And it probably won’t be done again by a Class AA team throughout the state.
The first time a Jamestown team reached the state championship game was the first year the event was held in 1993. However, after the Red Raiders got off to a 1-2 start in the regular season, the Carrier Dome was the furthest thing from their minds. The second loss was 21-20 at West Seneca East where Jamestown blew a 20-0 first-quarter lead.
The Red Raiders never lost again in the regular season and went to Sweet Home for a Section 6 Class A semifinal game. However, after 5:55 of play the Red Raiders were trailing 9-0 before bouncing back for a 28-9 victory.
The wins kept coming until Jamestown finally lost in the state championship game to North Rockland, 24-12, which won its 24th straight game.
The 1994 season was quite different as Jamestown was 13-0 with the final win for the state title by a 26-20 margin over North Rockland, which saw its win streak end at 36 games.
“Low and behold, since we stopped North Rockland’s winning streak they’ve been shut out until now,” Huckno said. “They’re back in the finals with Webster this year.”
The Red Raiders were on their own streak as they went 13-0 again in 1995 with a 32-18 win over Shenendehowa for a second straight Class A state title.
The streak of state title game appearances finally ended in 1996 when Jamestown was 6-3. However, the Red Raiders made it back last season at the Class AA level and won again.
“I look back and we had nice ballclubs, but I didn’t think they were extraordinary,” Huckno said. “We did have David Hinson and Aaron Leeper and Andy Benson and a few kids like that who were outstanding.”
What is remarkable about the three straight appearances from 1993-95 is the turnover in players from each season, but still Jamestown succeeded.
Huckno noted, “A lot of the ’94 kids got their (state championship) ring and they wouldn’t even wear it until they came back in ’95 and won their own. So the ’94 and ’95 teams were grouped up more.”
Troy has also made four appearances in the Class AA and A title games and won two. In Class B Lackawanna has done the same and in Class C Edgemont won three straight state titles. But the chances of a Class AA team making three straight championship game appearances like Jamestown did from 1993-95 might never happen again, according to Huckno.
“It might be more difficult now than it was,” he said. “You talk about parity in the National Football League, well I think that parity has come right down into the Double A division. There’s a lot of equality.”
Also, when Jamestown made three straight trips to the state title game, it was something new. Now all high school teams dream of playing opponents from all over the state for the chance to play in the Carrier Dome.
“When we first started we never heard of Webster and Rome (Free Academy) and Shenendehowa and North Rockland,” Huckno said.
Now Jamestown is very familiar with those teams and wants to remain familiar.
“We went so far this year as we taped Lancaster and Orchard Park (in the Section 6 Class AA championship game) at Ralph Wilson Stadium,” Huckno said. “Then Coach (Tom) Phillips went to Rochester and taped Webster and Orchard Park thinking that in future years those may be possible opponents. So we have that tape filed away thinking ahead about maybe two or three years or a year down the line. It’s gotten so you’re scouting outside of your division almost immediately.”
But it’s often getting out of Section 6 that is the most difficult. Each year the Red Raiders won a state title, the scores of their closest postseason games were in the Section 6 playoff games.
“It prepares us great when we’re moving on into state competition because some of the toughest competition comes right out of our section,” Huckno said.
And he added that Class AA has the toughest competition and relayed what an assistant coach from Depew, a Class A team, said recently: “We can play Lancaster (a Class AA rival) every year, but we could not survive playing that Double A for every game for every schedule. We can do it one time, but you get just too beat up and pounded and you lose players. He said that’s a wicked road.”
Now many teams in all classes are following the road to success designed by the Red Raiders long ago.
“For building a football team, I think we had the blueprint in Jamestown,” Huckno said. “You get into the weight room, you do things all year round: that dedication. Now I think many teams are doing that.”
The Red Raiders have been doing that since their 2001 season ended in the first round of the Section 6 playoffs because their goal is a fifth trip to the state championship game.
At one time Ralph Wilson Stadium was called Jamestown’s second home. Now the Red Raiders are trying to make the Carrier Dome a close second.