Dunkirk football continues to succeed despite late season losses

OBSERVER File Photo Pictured above is Dunkirk quarterback Phil Messina scrambling during a game earlier this season against Burgard. Messina will look to head the Marauder offense going forward.

It’s been two seasons removed since the Dunkirk Marauders’ football team made their Cinderella run to the state’s final four in 2016, but each of the last two seasons, they’ve encountered a bit of deja vu.

The Dunkirk Marauders had their season ended by Cheektowaga in the playoffs for the second year in a row last month, but that hasn’t taken away from the brotherhood formed within the center of the program.

With that being said, the wins, the statistics, the results — it’s been working for the Dunkirk football team.

“I can say over the last five years, it’s been a great ride,” said Dunkirk head coach Mike Sarratori. “However, it’s been a commitment. I think sometimes people don’t realize the work those kids put in that year we went to states. The commitment from years one, two and three have been different from the past few.”

The Marauders came out of the gate this season as to prove a point, deeming that their program is stronger than it’s ever been before and it was proven by their 6-0 start to the season. Starting the season in the newly formed Class B3, the team felt like they had to make their presence felt.

“I believe early in the season we came against some teams that we were stronger than,” said Sarratori. “The matchups we had were really in our favor. The kids worked hard and played hard.”

Dunkirk, behind senior running back Quantavis Kleckley, emerged as the team to beat in their new conference in the opening week, downing Eden/North Collins on their home field 58-14. The offensive outbreak caught the eye of everyone around, noticing that Kleckley was a load to bring down. Even with the emergence of Kleckley and the big win, the Marauders were hurt by the loss of Tywon Wright, their all-state performer from a season ago, to injury in that game.

“Every year we go into the offseason trying to pick ourselves apart as a coaching staff and self-critique by finding our weaknesses and finding ways to get better,” said Sarratori. “We wanted to be more diverse offensively. We had that diversified offense planned, but when Tywon went out early, things changed.”

The Marauders faced adversity in their first road contest of the season when they traveled to Tonawanda. The Marauders found themselves down in that contest late in the fourth quarter, but a final drive with less than a minute to go was capped off on a Kleckley touchdown run, giving them the 24-22 win and a 2-0 start to the season.

It’s important when developing a young quarterback like Dunkirk’s Phil Messina that you do everything you can to help him grow. Sometimes, it isn’t all about the statistical passing games, especially at the high school level.

“We put a lot on our young quarterback’s plate,” said Sarratori. “We wanted to give him confidence and see him grow — and I think we saw that.”

Dunkirk would then jump to a 4-0 record after dismantling Alden at home and then defeating Newfane during a Saturday matinee game in each of their next two contests. At that point in the season, the Marauders knew they were right where they were supposed to be, but wanted to be even more.

“We need to find more diversity in our offense,” said Sarratori. “Something that needs to happen is we need that commitment from everyone in the offseason so we can add that diversity.”

The Marauders then came home to face Class A Hamburg in a non-league game, a game that would prove they can play with just about anybody.

After that game, Sarratori knew his team had earned respect, saying, “Our kids decided we wanted to show everybody we could play A1 football. We’re a little B school that nobody respects, but hopefully now we’ve earned some.”

“It was a struggle those first six games,” said Sarratori. “I know the scores don’t reflect that, but it was. A lot of work went in by everyone to get to that point.”

Dunkirk went on to beat Burgard which set up an undefeated heavyweight fight against Fredonia/Brocton in the final week of the regular season.

Just like the season before, Fredonia/Brocton ended Dunkirk’s bid for a perfect season, dropping them to the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, having them travel to Cheektowaga where their season ended.

“It was a different year for us,” said Sarratori. “We always start off every year not knowing exactly what we are going to have because of the turnover with players. I knew we were going to play some good football and after losing Tywon I wasn’t sure which way we’d go. We responded well.”

A lot of arguments around are that football is evolving, and teams need to spread it around to score points. That might be the case, in the NFL or college. However, in high school, power run styles and solid defenses are winning teams games and championships.

And while that is the case, Dunkirk is going to be in great shape, because they do it as well as anyone. Dunkirk has been atop Western New York for the last five years in terms of wins and points scored, and they’ve done that by sticking to what works.

“A lot of work went in this season — by everyone,” said Sarratori. “We didn’t play great football every game, but we’re doing it the right way.”