When Pittsford and Colon meet between the hash marks Friday with a berth in the third round of the MHSAA playoffs on the line, there will be no shortage of motivation on either sideline.
The Wildcats ended the Magi’s 2008 season in the first round, while a much-improved Colon (9-1) team beat Pittsford 26-14 in week two this year.
The Magi’s option scheme and productive passing attack complement what is maybe the program’s best defensive unit in the last 40 years.
But the Wildcats (7-3) are a much more polished, confident team than the one who had two lost fumbles and two interceptions in a road loss two months ago.
The end result is the fourth meeting between the schools in their last 20 contests, one that figures to be won by the defense that can best stifle the long passes and runs that define both offenses.
Pittsford head coach Bob Clement said he thought the Magi were “one of the best 5-4 teams he had ever seen” when the Wildcats beat them in the 2008 playoffs, and Colon has only matured and improved the last 12 months.
“They are a very, very good team, they are well rounded and they pass and run well both ways,” he said. “They’re tough defensively, just a real sound football team.”
A sound enough team that they are the first 9-win program in school history and they were able to score three touchdowns of at least 41 yards on the Wildcats back on Sept. 3.
Nonetheless, Clement said he is putting little stock into what happened in Colon before his team evolved into the 7-3 team they are.
“We weren’t really in-sync yet those first two games. We did some good things and we did some awful things, and we’ve been better at stopping the big play,” he said. “That’s what it was the first part of the season — we’d play pretty good and then let a big play go, and that’s what we did with them. We were really shutting them down and then they got a long pass and we just kind of lost it.”
The long pass Clement is referring to is the 70-yarder from senior QB Brenden Shallack to Brandon Farrand, which finally put Colon on the board in the second quarter.
Shallack is the experienced leader of a dangerous option attack that is capable of doing just about anything, with his wide array of abilities often on display.
Against Pittsford Shallack was 10-for-15 passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with six carries for 88 yards.
“He’s just a great athlete. He can pass the ball so you have to respect that and he rolls out and you have to worry that he’s going to take it and run with it,” Clement said.
While comparisons to Pittsford QB Garet Lee could be made because both players can beat the defense with both their feet and arm, Clement said they are physiologically quite different.
“The similarity would be they are both very good, but he’s different, hes kind of dashing, darting where as Garet is more strength and power.”
Shallack has been consistently productive all season, minus a loss to Climax-Scotts, which he was just 4-for-14 passing in. Still, he ran for 117 yards on 18 attempts in defeat.
Shallack has three receivers at his dispense that any team would be glad to have, in Farrand, Landon Wilson and Austin Moyer.
The Magi’s top running back is Curtis Hiller who lines up as both a halfback and a fullback.
Clement said having defensive success against the option is all about sticking to assignments and making plays in the open field.
“It’s a challenge. We’re going to work on that hard this week, making sure our guys know their assignments and who they have to take on the option,” he said. “We certainly want them to know where Shallack is going to be and we’re going to have our kids aware of who can do the most damage.”
Colon has a good idea who can do the most damage for Pittsford, as all eyes seem to constantly be on No. 5 Garet Lee, and rightfully so.
Last week he had another brilliant performance in a 36-0 first-round win over Eau Claire, throwing two touchdowns on just four passes attempts and running for 86 yards on 10 carries.
To have similar results Friday Lee will have to be able to read and react to different defenses, because according to Clement the Magi switch between 5-3 and 3-5 schemes depending on down and distance.
“They’ll go in a 5-3 or 3-5 no matter what formation you are in. If it’s third-and-long or something like that they will jump into something to defend the pass,” he said.
Clement said Hiller and Wilson are very tough, play-making linebackers and the Magi don’t lack for size on the defensive line.
Tim Clipfell is 6-0, 280 pounds and he starts at center and on the D-line.
This year the Magi have allowed just 86 points in 10 games, after allowing 210 points last season.
Despite struggling with turnovers in the first meeting, the Wildcat offense actually out-gained the Magi 323-303 and they garnered 17 first downs to just four by Colon.
Clement said he is thankful to be able to say his team has been improving every week since that loss, and while no schematic changes will be that noticeably different this time around, the chemistry and cohesiveness of the Wildcats is light years ahead of where it was.
“It’s been a lot about kids figuring out where they fit into things and us as coaches figuring out where they fit in. You know, we had a big changeover of kids, it just took a while to get to where we wanted to be,” he said. “(My team) is pretty excited, they’re really into it and ready to go. It will be fun.”