Dunkirk, Fredonia/Brocton to meet in the Orange Bowl tonight

One for the history books

Dunkirk leading rusher Quantavis Kleckley looks for daylight during a game earlier this year.

The day that Dunkirk and Fredonia football fans have always dreamed of has finally arrived.

Dunkirk and Fredonia square off tonight in the Orange Bowl in one of the biggest regular season high school football games that Chautauqua County has ever seen. At stake tonight: an undefeated regular season, a Class B3 division title, and almost certainly, a home playoff game.

“It’s something we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives,” said Dunkirk head coach Mike Sarratori. “It doesn’t matter what our records are. It doesn’t matter that we’re playing for the division title. Those things just add to it. This is a game our kids are going to remember for many years.”

The Dunkirk Marauders come into tonight’s matchup with four straight wins of more than 20 points. In all four games, the Marauders have scored at least 30 points, while only allowing five total touchdowns in the last four games. The Marauders were only truly challenged once on the year, in Week 2 at Tonawanda, shortly after the news that two-way star Tywon Wright tore a ligament in his knee to end his season. Week 2 was the only time on the season that the Marauders trailed in the fourth quarter.

For the Fredonia Hillbillies (combined with Brocton), the final scores of their games may not have been as lopsided, but the Hillbillies had the same result as Dunkirk every week. The Hillbillies are battle-tested, with comeback wins over Newfane in Week 1 and Cassadaga Valley/Falconer in Week 4.

This game, however, is a different story.

“This is the biggest game I’ve coached in as a head coach, that’s for sure,” said Fredonia head coach Greg Sherlock. “Dunkirk is absolutely the best team we’ve played this year. They are so much more athletic and disciplined. … I have nothing but respect for what they’ve done over there.”

After making trips to the playoffs with nine programs as an assistant coach, Sherlock is poised for his first playoff appearance as a head coach this season with the Hillbillies. But first, Fredonia has to deal with Dunkirk in one of the most hyped regular season matchups in program history.

“This is a big deal for both communities,” said Sherlock. “For the kids and the parents, it’s a big deal. It’s great for the area.”

Both teams have one big thing in common besides identical records — each team has one of the best running backs in Western New York. Dunkirk’s Quantavis Kleckley and Fredonia’s Joell Colon enter the game as two of the top three running backs in Western New York in rushing yards. Kleckley’s stat line on the season is 106 carries, 1031 yards, 13 touchdowns, while Colon’s is 105 carries, 992 yards and 12 touchdowns. Kleckley was held out of the second half in the first two home games of the year for Dunkirk to receive rest in blowouts, while Colon missed the second half of Week 4 due to injury, and was on a limited snap count in Week 5 at Burgard. Both backs could have even more impressive numbers than they already have.

“They are two special football players,” said Sherlock. “They’re fun to watch.”

In regard to Colon, Sarratori credited the Fredonia running back as the best player they have played to date.

“He’s a good size, has great speed, he’s a great athlete,” said Sarratori. “We have to gang-tackle him. We’re going to be aggressive, and we have to be.”

Similarly, Sherlock said Dunkirk’s star running back, Kleckley, is “absolutely” the best player his team has faced all year long.

“He’s the best back we’ve faced all year, and Dunkirk has the best line we’ve faced all year,” said Sherlock.

Needless to say, the focal point of each team’s offense will be their star running back. However, the passing attack from both sides could certainly play a significant role in the matchup.

“If we think Kleckley is the only thing we need to beat Fredonia, we’re kidding ourselves,” said Sarratori. “Fredonia is the best team we’re going to face all year. We need to a lot of things well to beat them.”

Sherlock agreed that both teams are more than just a star running back.

“They’re so dynamic, people forget about what’s around them,” said Sherlock. “There’s more to each team than just them.”

Dunkirk’s first-year signal caller Phil Messina was counted on to do much less this season than Fredonia’s Trey Swartz was. Still, when Messina needed to, he made plays for the Marauders, especially in Dunkirk’s Homecoming win over Hamburg.

“Phil has progressively become a much better quarterback,” said Sarratori. “From one year on JV to a varsity starting position, he’s managed the games just the way we’ve asked him to. … In the game against Hamburg, he had some timely throws that really opened up the game.”

Sarratori knows that Messina will play a big role for Dunkirk tonight.

“I think we need to be well-balanced offensively,” said Sarratori. “Whether that’s running inside and outside or whether it means throwing the ball, we have to be balanced to have success.”

The Hillbillies also went with a first-year starter at quarterback this year. However, the quarterback in orange and black has plenty of experience on the big stage. Fredonia’s senior quarterback, Swartz, took over as quarterback this year, after starting as a tight end last season. Also a varsity pitcher, Swartz has plenty of big-game experience for Fredonia to rely on for tonight’s game. Swartz comes into tonight with 476 yards through the air and seven touchdowns on the season. The Hillbillies did not rely on Swartz often early in the season, but when it mattered most, Swartz came through. From a last-second touchdown pass to finish the first half of Week 1, to the game-winning drive against Cassadaga Valley/Falconer in the final minute, Swartz has been in control when the game was on the line.

Tonight is the 126th time the two cross-town rivals have met dating back to 1901 — and it may be the most meaningful one of all. Dunkirk leads the all-time series 65-49-11. However, Fredonia has been the victor in recent years. Going back to 1999, Fredonia has won all but two matchups in the rivalry. From 1999-2014, Fredonia won 16 straight contests. Dunkirk won in 2015 and 2016, before Fredonia ended Dunkirk’s perfect season on its home field last season. That loss is still fresh in the mind of Sarratori and the Marauders.

“It left a bad taste in our mouth, I’m not going to lie. That would’ve been our first undefeated season since 1974. They smacked us on our own field and that doesn’t happen to us, at least not in the last few years.”

Still, as much as the rivalry plays into tonight’s game, the focus for Sarratori is on more than revenge for last season.

“We want a division title. We win this game, we win a division championship,” said Sarratori. “We get a home playoff game if we win. That’s the big picture of this game.”

Coming into the season, Sarratori said, “The last few years, it’s been more than a Fredonia game for the Dunkirk football program.”

Sarratori — now in his fifth season as the head of the Marauders football program — still stands by what he said before the year. However, he acknowledged that tonight will go a long way to his final goal left to achieve.

“Five years ago, we wanted to achieve a winning season, and we did that. In year two, we wanted to make the playoffs and we did. Year three, we made it to the state semifinals. Year four, we won our division. Now, we’ve met every step we’ve wanted to meet up to now. Our goal now is for bigger and better things, and this is another step to our big goal.”

In Fredonia, before the year began, Coach Sherlock said, “Anything less than playoffs would be a disappointment.”

Now that his team has made the playoffs, the focus for tonight is only on one thing — beat Dunkirk.

To come out on top, Fredonia needs to control Kleckley and the running game of Dunkirk. However, just as important for Fredonia will be eliminating the mistakes the Hillbillies have been able to overcome earlier in the year.

“We have to stop the run game and limit how much they have the ball. We have to try to make them one-dimensional. Just when you think you have them figured out, they have something else up their sleeves to beat you,” said Sherlock. “But we also have to be more disciplined than we have been all year. Penalties, turnovers, mistakes like that we’ve been getting away with this year. Against Dunkirk, we won’t get away with that.”

For Dunkirk, the recipe is similar, and just as simple — avoid mistakes.

“The key to this matchup is we have to play as close to mistake-free football as possible,” said Sarratori. “If we play to our potential, I just have to worry about Dunkirk.”

Tonight, the towns will likely pack the Orange Bowl — as it has done many years in the past — for one of the most hyped high school football games of all-time in the Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry.

“Being back in the Orange Bowl adds a lot to it,” said Sherlock. “The support we got last week was pretty amazing. The kids played better because of it. I know they’re going to be loud again for this one. … Hopefully we can give them a game (tonight).”

Whether or not tonight lives up to the hype is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure — a division championship will be earned tonight.

“Winning this game would be something the kids would remember forever,” said Sherlock. “We’ll do the best we can and let the chips fall where they may.”

Follow along on Twitter @bradencarmen for live updates throughout the game.