Fredonia (4-1, 3-1) knew heading into Friday night's Class C North game against Cleveland Hill (4-1, 3-1) that if it was going to be successful, it was going to have to contain Brandon Thomas and the Golden Eagles' running attack.
The Hillbillies were up to the challenge, as they held Thomas to 34 yards on 16 caries and got enough offense of their own, as they dropped the Golden Eagles, 15-8, in a key divisional matchup.
"They did a great job with aligning things," Cleveland Hill head coach Glen Graham said. "I don't think we were confused, I don't think that we didn't have the right schemes, I just think that our execution needed to be a little sharper, a little better up front."
OBSERVER?Photo by Justin?Goetz
Cleveland?Hill’s Brandon?Thomas (5) tries to tackle Fredonia’s Weston?Ley (7) during Friday’s Class?C high school football game at the Orange Bowl.
Weston Ley and Zach Buckley carried the load for Fredonia, with Ley rushing for 120 yards on 31 carries and Buckley 87 yards on 11 carries.
"Weston ran hard and didn't turn it over," Fredonia head coach Bob Ball said. "And Zach Buckley ran hard and Tyler Cassidy. Those three guys all made some good, open-field plays. Weston got the majority of the carries with the power (offense), but none of our backs put the ball on the ground all night, and that was one of our goals - no turnovers and play good defense. And we thought that would equal a win."
"We knew it was going to be tough coming down here," Graham added. "They're so tough in their own backyard. And they're a good football team."
The Golden Eagles' first drive came to a halt when Nick Nocek picked up the first of his four sacks of Jacob Radlich, leaving Cleveland Hill with a 4th-and-18 at the 50-yard line.
"He was great tonight," Ball said of Nocek. "He and Chris Saden at the ends, it was all about them as far as keeping (Cleveland Hill's running backs) from the edge. And you have to have excellent defensive end play against these guys.
"Nick's done it two years in a row now shutting them down," Ball continued. "Our whole defense played well, there wasn't a single kid that didn't play well, but those two were critical for our success on defense."
After Cleveland Hill was unable to turn a Ny'juan Rainey interception deep in Golden Eagle territory into any sustainable momentum, the Hillbillies were able to put together the game's first successful drive.
After forcing a punt and taking over at the Golden Eagles' 37-yard line, the Hillbillies needed just three plays to get into the end zone, as Buckley found his way in from seven yards out.
"It's tough," Graham said of being unable to stop Fredonia's running game. "And that's part of the game. It's part of football. (Fredonia) executed better than we did offensively (Friday) and that's why they got the 'W.'"
Trent Thompson added the point after and the Hillbillies had a 7-0 lead with 8:46 left in the second quarter.
The Hillbillies' next drive ended with them turning the ball over on downs at the Golden Eagles' 6-yard line. However, the Hillbillies' defense stiffened up, forcing the Golden Eagles to punt the ball out of its own end zone. Tory Grupa was able to get his hand to the football for a safety and 9-0 Fredonia lead.
"They can enjoy the win," Ball said. "It was a big homecoming win, and I believe (Cleveland Hill) is number five or six in Western New York right now and our guys can enjoy it until Monday."
After forcing the Hillbillies to turn the ball over on downs on the opening drive of the second half, the Golden Eagles gave the ball right back to the home team at the Fredonia 48-yard line.
From there, the Hillbillies ran out the rest of the clock in the third quarter, before Ley found Cody Smith over the middle for a 39-yard touchdown strike and a 15-0 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"On offense, you have to do what you do best consistently," Ball said. "A couple of times we stopped it with that, and then took advantage of some of their defensive alignments with some big plays too."
The Golden Eagles got their first opportunity to get on the board in the second half, as a Thompson interception was returned down to the Hillbillies' 27-yard line.
"I was not happy with the pass in the fourth quarter," Ball said. "That was not what we wanted to do at that point, and we do have some things that we go to and one of our kids thought he saw something and we didn't want that. I was extremely unhappy with that decision. We overcame that in the end."
However, a fumbled snap, two false start penalties and another Nocek sack ended the Golden Eagles' drive at their own 45-yard line.
From there, the Hillbilllies went into its power offense, trying to wrack up first downs while taking time off the clock. In doing so, they gave the Golden Eagles a chance to get back into the game, as they were forced to punt the ball from their own 23-yard line.
Nick Johnston was unable to handle a low snap, leaving the Golden Eagles with a golden opportunity to get their first touchdown of the night. They did not pass it up, as Thomas went around the right side from seven-yards out into the end zone.
"I'm not going to dwell on it," Ball said of the late turnover. "We're going to learn. Our kid's going to learn that made the mistake and it's a learning experience. I've seen college and pro (players) do that stuff."
Aaron Jackson found Wayne Jones for the two-point conversion, cutting the Hillbillies' lead to seven at 15-8 with 4:16 left in the game.
Fredonia was forced to punt again on its ensuing possession, but Smith bailed his offense out, intercepting a Radlich pass intended for Rainey at the Hillbillies' 44-yard line.
"I do appreciate how hard our kids battled," Graham said. "They played right to the very end, which is all I can ever ask them to do."
Fredonia ran out the remaining 1:53, moving to the top of the Class C North standings in the process.
"It was big," Ball said of the win. "With them coming here, they were undefeated, they hadn't lost and this was a big win. Us, them and JFK right now are at the top of the league, and we've beaten both of those two, so we have the tie breaker. "