The Jamestown football team has always taken pride in its defense and there's no exception in this young season.
The Red Raiders, ranked fourth among large schools in Western New York, are off to a 2-0 start and in the two victories they have allowed only 15 points, which ranks second in Class AA.
John Czech leads the defense with 18 tackles while Zach Eklum has 15 and Malker Anderson has 10.
So while it appears the Jamestown defense has been a strength, it will be even stronger tonight when Cortland Haines plays his first game of the season in the Red Raiders' Class AA South game at Lancaster at 7:30.
Haines had arthroscopic knee surgery five days before the season opener, but the 6-foot-2, 265-pound senior, who was an All-Western New York and third team all-state selection last season, has been cleared to play tonight.
That's good news for Jamestown and bad news for Lancaster, which is 1-1 overall and 0-1 in Class AA South.
''Haines is eligible to play and as long as he practices without pain this week and we feel that he's safe, then he should be ready to go,'' Red Raiders coach Tom Langworthy said earlier this week.
And Haines' return to the defensive line won't just be noticed on the field.
''He's a very intense player, he knows what he's doing out there,'' Langworthy said. ''He helps kids out, not only as far as who to block and when, but emotionally. He's one of our leaders, there's no doubt about it and it's great to have him back.''
And the coach was quick to praise the play of his defense without Haines.
''We didn't make any excuses because he wasn't around,'' Langworthy said. ''Other guys stepped up and did a great job and those guys are still going to be in the mix.''
Tonight is the Red Raiders' first road game after picking up a bonus home game on Saturday. The team was heading to Niagara Falls that morning for a 2 p.m. game when they learned the Wolverines' home field, Sal Maglie Stadium, was unplayable because of two days of rain and the game was moved to Strider Field that night. The Red Raiders had no problem with the change in schedule and went on to record a 35-7 win.
''I was pleased with that,'' Langworthy said about his players' response to the change. ''A game's a game, we just got a little wrinkle in there. Our guys were just happy the game wasn't canceled and it was a definite possibility. Then from going from a possible cancellation to playing at Strider, that is something to be excited about.''
So now they open road play a week late.
''First league game, we're going on the road and it's always a hard place to play,'' he said about Lancaster's Foyle Kling Field.
''They need a win really bad so they're going to give us a great game because right now they're desperate.''
Lancaster is coming off a 34-7 loss to West Seneca West and there was a good reason for that score.
''West Seneca West is a very good team,'' Langworthy said about the team ranked ninth in WNY. ''They had a lot of momentum and things went well for them, but I think Lancaster is a good football team and they'll bounce back.''
And they can mainly do it with the passing of quarterback Kevin Colafranceschi.
''They throw deep and the kid's got a good arm and he throws it on a line,'' Langworthy said. ''They go for the big home run balls. One little slip up could cost you.''
That was how the Red Raiders gave up their only touchdown in their opening game against Kenmore West when a receiver got wide open behind the defense.
Last week in the win over Niagara Falls, the Wolverines' only touchdown was on a long run and featured a lot of broken tackles.
''Defensively we've got to be better tacklers and I think we need a better pass rush at times,'' Langworthy said was the improvement he was seeking this week in practice. ''Offensively, we've got to hold our blocks a little longer and I think our passing game could improve.''
The Red Raiders' passing and running game have been about equal. They have 360 yards gained on the ground and 312 through the air. Quarterback Jake Sisson has completed 16 of 26 passes and the rushing is led by Da'Quan Hollingsworth with 199 yards on 34 carries while Sisson is the second-leading runner with 137 yards on 22 carries.
Speaking of West Seneca West, that's who the Red Raiders play host to next Friday at Strider Field at 7 p.m.