Zach Buckley ran for 146 yards and scored two touchdowns as Fredonia opened its Class C North schedule with a 28-14 win over visiting JFK Friday night at the Orange Bowl.
"Zach ran hard," Fredonia head coach Bob Ball said. "He definitely ran tough. He was a little winded. We've got to work on our conditioning, but he played a lot of football on offense and defense."
After forcing a three-and-out on the Bears' game-opening drive, Buckley capped the Hillbillies' 12-play, 56-yard effort with a 1-yard run off right tackle into the end zone.
OBSERVER?Photo by Justin?Goetz
Fredonia’s Weston Ley (7) escapes from JFK’s Zack Walkowski (24) during Friday’s Class C?high school football game at the Orange Bowl.
In the span of two plays late in the first quarter, the momentum in the game shifted from the home side to the visitor side. After Fredonia's Cody Smith recovered a fumble by JFK's Chris Kozak at the Hillbillies' 35-yard line, Trent Thompson's first pass on the ensuing drive was tipped and intercepted by Zack Walkowski, who took it in 36 yards for a pick-six, cutting the Fredonia lead to 7-6 with 2:13 left in the opening quarter.
"It was a fluke play," Ball said of the interception. "Our quarterback knows you can't wind up to throw. This isn't baseball and he wound up and threw it from the hip. But the guy got in, we missed the pass block and he hit (Thompson's) arm. It wasn't all him.
"I was more impressed with how they bounced back from that play," Ball added. "I'd rather have that happen now than in six weeks when it's a big play and we haven't had a gut-check yet."
The teams traded three-and-outs before Buckley got back to work, taking the ball on a burst up the middle for 65 yards and his second touchdown of the game, helping the Hillbillies build a 14-6 lead with 10:00 left in the second quarter.
With the Hillbillies' defense doing its job, the last thing the Bears needed was to let up another big play. Unfortunately for JFK, Fredonia had Weston Ley returning punts Friday night.
After working his way behind the Bears defensive backs, Ley was unable to haul in a perfect pass from Thompson early in the second quarter. However, the 5-foot, 9-inch junior speedster made up for it with a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown that helped put the Hillbillies to a 21-6 lead with 8:37 left in the first half.
"We expected Fredonia to be tough all the way around," JFK head coach Mark Ostempowski said. "We knew they had a lot coming back. (Weston) Ley obviously is just a great player. He hurt us a lot."
After the Hillbillies' defense forced another Bears' punt, the offense took over on its own 29-yard line. Two plays later, Ley had his second touchdown of the game. Tyler Cassidy ran the ball up the middle for five yards on first down, before Thompson hit Ley on a screen play that he was able to turn into a 66-yard jaunt into the end zone.
Not helping the Bears any was the fact that they were down to only 18 players, four less than they thought they were going to have at the beginning of the season.
"We had two guys transfer out of the district right before the first week of practice, so that obviously hurt us" Ostempowski said. "We had 18 guys dressed - that's all we had eligible, but the heart that those 18 kids showed, we were pretty proud of their effort."
Thompson, who was seeing action at quarterback for the first time since he was a sophomore, did enough to impress his head coach, as he finished 7-for-17 for 111 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"I thought he did well," Ball said. "There's definitely some room for improvement and he knows that and he'll acknowledge it and do what he needs to do to get better."
Defensively, Cassidy led the team with nine tackles while Smith added an interception to go with his fumble recovery.
"They played tough," Ball said of his defense. "But the open-field tackling ... There were times when they got to the edge on us and we didn't tackle well in the open field and we have to improve on that."
For the Hillbillies, it was yet another season-opening win, but Ball knows his team still has work to do as it will prepare to take on Allegany-Limestone next week.
"Keeping the intensity for four quarters," Ball said of what his team will have to work on. "Part of it was just it was the first game. In the scrimmages we played teams for 10 plays and looked good, but when you play (a team) for 40 or 50 plays it's a little different. You just can't repeat this in practice."
NOTES: Ley finished with six receptions for 95 yards ... Buckley and Nocek each had a quarterback sack ... the Hillbillies' defense held the the Bears' offense to 102 total yards (69 rushing, 33 passing) ... Fredonia ran for 212 yards on 40 carries. ... JFK's final score came late in the fourth quarter as Walkowski hit paydirt from 1 yard out.