For the past 13 years, the Dunkirk-Fredonia football rivalry has been dominated by the Hillbillies. Tonight, at the Orange Bowl, Fredonia (4-2) will look to extend its winning streak to 14 over its arch-rival Dunkirk (2-4).
Both teams enter tonight's 120th meeting coming off losses last week. The Hillbillies, who will make the Section 6 Class C playoffs, saw their chances at a second straight Class C North title dashed by 27-10 loss to Akron. The Marauders, on the other hand, were eliminated from playoff contention after being shutout 20-0 by Springville in their Class B South finale last Friday night at Karl Hoeppner Field.
"With these kids, they have a special opportunity, because it's rival week and they're playing in one of the oldest football games in the state," Dunkirk head coach Rob Genco said. "And they can do something special that a Dunkirk football team hasn't been able to do in 13 years and that's beat Fredonia.
Dunkirk’s Nick?Barlette hopes to help lead the Marauders to their first victory over Fredonia in 13 years.
Fredonia’s Weston Ley has been a catalyst for the Hillbillies’ offense this season and hopes to have another big game against arch-rival Dunkirk tonight.
"Most people don't have this opportunity after a season like ours," Genco continued. "And that's to be able to accomplish something that Dunkirk hasn't been able to do in 13 years that means so much to the community and the athletes and the faculty and staff. And they're all excited and they're practicing hard and we're preparing for a very athletic football team in Fredonia."
Like Genco, Fredonia head coach Bob Ball will be looking to find a way to get his team back on the winning track after a tough divisional loss.
"Whether it's a big win like against Cleveland Hill the week before, or a tough loss, on Monday, it's important that we let it go and focus on our next opponent," Ball said.
"We don't usually have too much difficulty getting them focused again whether it's a win or a loss. They just realize that it's in the past and they're focused on the next game."
For both teams, taking care of the football and players playing their responsibilities will go a long way in determining how much success they have tonight.
"Turnovers are always a big thing," Ball said. "You have to take care of the football offensively and create turnovers on defense. And penalties as well. The games we've won this year, we've won those two categories and the two games we've lost, we lost those two categories. It's very important that we win the turnover and penalty battles. And then assignments. Everybody has a role, whether it's offense or defense, and (they have) a job to do and they have to take care of their job and their area before they look to help out in another area."
"Again offensively, we've got to make less mistakes," Genco added. "It's not like last week when we just couldn't block (Springville). They've got to want it. We've got to play a great football team and we've got to be able to execute what we do. And defensively, we think we're schemed right and we've got to play. I told them on every single play, there is someone designed to block them. Somebody is supposed to block them on every single play. No matter where we line them up, no matter what defense we scheme, someone is supposed to block them. The reality of it is don't get blocked. Be a better football player than you were the week before and we'll win."
For several players, tonight's game will represent their last Dunkirk-Fredonia football game, but both coaches noted their teams have different mindsets.
"I think they're sad," Genco said of his seniors. "We have a senior banged up in (Edwin) Gomez. His shoulder's a little banged up and I know it and he knows it, but he came into my office and said, 'This is Dunkirk-Fredonia. You don't know what this means. This is it for me. This is my last game.' I know what it means to the seniors. And I think win or lose, Fredonia and Dunkirk carries a love-hate relationship. When they're not playing Fredonia, they want them to do well. They keep track of their season. They tell me who had big games and it's pretty cool that I know when we're not playing them, our kids want them to do well. And it's the same way with the coaching staff. We want them to do well, we want them to be able to make a run in the playoffs."
"We haven't really discussed it too much," Ball added. "I think they're more focused on the game plan right now. That's what we've talked about instead of the nostalgia of the game. It's getting the game plan in and what we need to do to correct the mistakes from last week and give our team a better chance for success. We've approached this game from more of a competitive standpoint than the symbolic level of the game. We haven't gotten to that point."
With the playoffs out of reach for the Marauders, Genco knows that a win over the Hillbillies will go a long way in helping to establish the kind of program he hopes to build in Dunkirk.
"I don't want to jinx ourselves, but I think it's a great year, it's a good year and everything that we've been through this year with injuries and having to move guys around and having guys step in, (a win) would save the face of the season," Genco said. "It's something they're playing for. We've talked about who's going to be the team to turn the corner for Dunkirk football. And I think a win against Fredonia, beating them for the first time in 13 years, would get people excited. And they can be that team."
For Ball's Hillbillies, a win over the Marauders will get them back on the right track as they prepare for their first playoff game next week. However, after another good week of practice, Ball knows that his team will have to take what they did well all week into tonight's game if they want to avoid another tough loss.
"We looked really sharp last week in practice leading up to Akron," Ball said. "And that's why it was such a disappointment (last) Friday night when we played the way we did. I thought our kids prepared really well and knew all of their assignments. This week, we need to make sure we have that same focus in practice, but carry it into the game. And that's where our focus has been rather than on a streak or what players they have or anything else.
"We're really looking forward to getting back on the winning track," Ball continued. "The best thing to do after a loss is to play better and go out and get a win. And that's what we're looking to do right now, and we feel we know what we need to do to do that. It's just a matter of showing up and doing it on Friday night."
One thing is certain tonight, Genco will get his first true taste of the Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry, which is something he noted his 10 years of coaching varsity football, basketball and lacrosse has lacked.
"This is the first time I've been able to be a part of an actual true rival," Genco said. "We haven't had one at Silver Creek in all three sports. We've had some teams that we've had some battles with, but none that we'd call a true rival. So it's pretty neat to have a true rival game."