A week ago, Jake Pilling was on the verge of being benched.
On Friday night, he put together one of the finest performances in the storied history of the Southwestern football program.
Pilling ran for four touchdowns, threw for three, and hit sophomore Hunter Peterson with the game-winning two-point conversion pass in overtime to send the Trojans to a wild, crazy and unpredictable, 47-46, victory over Salamanca in a Class C South epic at Charles A. Lawson Field.
Salamanca quarterback Tanner John is sandwiched between Southwestern’s Peter Trathen, right, and a teammate during Friday night’s Class C South game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
It's a homecoming game that the Trojans' faithful will be talking about for years.
''We've won a couple state championships,'' Southwestern coach Jay Sirianni said, ''and we've won in overtime before, but this was a lot of fun.''
The one who ended up having the most fun - with apologies to the all-world performance of Salamanca quarterback Tanner John - was Pilling.
Unable to direct a touchdown drive since a Week One victory at Falconer, Pilling had a performance for the ages. All told he completed 6-of-12 passes for 100 yards and TD passes of 4, 25 and 21 yards, and he rushed 23 times for 137 yards and found the end zone on four short runs.
''I'm not going to lie,'' Sirianni said, ''but in the third and fourth quarters last week (in an 18-3 loss at Olean) we were thinking about taking him out and making a change there. But when I thought about it (last) weekend, Jake is a kid we know can play, he took us to the state championship game last year and he's played in big games. We just let the kid have a bounce-back and let him recover from the adversity.''
Adversity turned to joy in a matter of minutes.
Just after Salamanca, which had trailed at one point late in the first half, 39-7, took the lead, 46-39, on John's 20-yard touchdown pass to Andy Crandell and Evan Harrington's extra-point kick on the Warriors' first possession in overtime, Pilling made two huge plays that kept alive the Trojans' goal of a division title.
After two runs netted minus-1 yard, Pilling found senior Andy Greenlee on a 21-yard touchdown pass just inside the right pilon. The decision to go for the two-point conversion was really no decision at all for Sirianni.
''There was no other call,'' he said. ''There's a reason we have 'Faith' on our helmet. That's a big deal to us and a big word for us. ... What a great lesson about trust and faith.''
So after a Salamanca timeout, Pilling took the snap from center, saw pressure coming up the middle and rolled to his right. He had two receivers running slants to the inside and Peterson was running an ''out'' pattern.
''I saw the corner, the safety and the linebacker all went with the slant and Hunter was by himself so I threw him the ball,'' Pilling said.
Peterson was immediately mobbed by 30 or 40 of his teammates in an end zone celebration worthy of a championship.
''(Pilling) brought them back,'' Sirianni said. ''Jake's faith was a little bit tested last week and we just kept trying to be positive with him. Talk about bounce-back.''
Talk about a heavyweight bout.
John was magnificent in defeat, completing 18 of 32 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown, while running for 126 yards on 15 carries and five TDs, including one for 72 yards. He was so good, in fact, that the Warriors (3-1, 2-1) scored 39 unanswered points after trailing at one point, 39-7, late in the first half.
''Tanner John is the best quarterback in our league since Zack Sopak,'' Sirianni said. ''He's the real deal.''
John's 6-yard run on fourth down with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter, set up a potential game-winning extra-point try, but Southwestern senior Peter Trathen blocked the attempt, forcing the game into overtime.
''It was a tale of two halves,'' Salamanca coach Paul Furlong said. ''They were unstoppable in the first half and we were unstoppable in the second half.''
What really hurt the Warriors was their failure to field three directional kickoffs, which led to Southwestern recoveries - two by senior Ryan Schutte - and three touchdowns.
As it turned out, the Trojans needed every favorable bounce in a game that seemed well in hand.
''I said to our fans, 'That was the greatest comeback in Salamanca history that won't be remembered,''' Furlong said. ''If we win that, now we can put a stamp on it, but when you lose it's not the same.''
For Southwestern, which travels to Allegany-Limestone next Friday, its divisional title hopes are still alive.
''I wouldn't have thought that two weeks ago,'' Sirianni said.
Of course, no one could have imagined what would transpire at Lawson Field last night.
NOTES: Kevin Bellardo ran for 97 yards on 14 carries for the Trojans. ... In addition to his TD pass pass to Greenlee, Pilling also connected with Nick Baglia and Schutte from 4 and 25 yards respectively. ... Trathen had 10 tackles and Nick Melquist added nine. ... Trathen also had two blocked kicks and Schutte had the two fumble recoveries. ... Salamanca travels to Gowanda on Friday.
Salamanca7 7 6 19 7 - 46
Southwestern19 20 0 0 8 - 47
SW-Baglia 4 pass from Pilling (kick fail)
Sal-John 72 run (Harrington kick)
SW-Pilling 1 run (pass fail)
SW-Schutte 25 pass from Pilling (Hoose kick)
SW-Pilling 4 run (Hoose kick)
SW-Pilling 2 run (Hoose kick)
SW-Pilling 1 run (kick fail)
Sal-John 3 run (Harrington kick)
Sal-Crandell 1 run (kick blocked)
Sal-John 5 run (pass fail)
Sal-John 1 run (Harrington kick)
Sal-John 6 run (kick blocked)
Sal-Crandell 20 pass from John (Harrington kick)
SW-Greenlee 21 pass from Pilling (Peterson pass from Pilling)