Head of the class
Fredonia will be looking to secure the Class C South high school football title outright tonight at the Orange Bowl in Fredonia while its opponent, the Gowanda Panthers, will be looking to avenge a 56-8 loss it suffered a year ago.
“It’ll be nice to not be as rushed before the game and be able to relax a little bit,” Fredonia head coach Mike Marshall said, referring to his team’s game at Allegany-Limestone last week. “And being on your home turf, it’s always nice.”
The task won’t be easy this year for the Panthers either, as Fredonia has outscored its opponents, 209-74.
“They’ve got the spread, and the pistol, and the motion, and all that fancy football,” Gowanda head coach Sean Gabel said of Fredonia’s offense. “That’s not us. We’re old school, we have different formations, but we’re just going to hopefully beat you off the ball.
“They’re a defensive coordinator’s nightmare,” Gabel continued. “You don’t have enough pens and paper to write down every play they run out of every one of their formations. But it still comes down to blocking and tackling. And whoever does that better will win the game.”
For the Hillbillies, Marshall noted it’s the first time his team will see an offensive scheme like the one the Panthers run.
“They seem to have a two-tight offense,” Marshall said of Gowanda. “And they like to run out of the I-formation. At least that’s what they did when they beat Falconer. But when I saw the film against Allegany-Limestone, they put the ball in the air a lot more. This will be the first team we’ve faced the power-I (formation). And they like to run a little bit of off-tackle and they mix it up with a little bit of the spread in throwing situations.”
Leading the way for the Panthers’ offense has been Brennan Geiger, who has rushed for 655 yards on 122 carries.
“It is a little bit,” Marshall said of whether or not his team’s inability, at times, to stop the run is a concern for tonight’s game. “But we’re making adjustments so we can be more aggressive.
“At the beginning of the season, we were sitting there and waiting and watching things happen and unfold in front of us,” Marshall continued. “And by the time the ball got to (the defenders), the ball carrier was already as deep as the linebackers. We’re trying to make our defense a little more aggressive by calling more stunts and giving them the latitude to attack the offense.”
Geiger has added four touchdowns for the Panthers, who are in the midst of their most successful season in recent memory.
“We’re hoping to get some plays,” Gabel said. “We’re hoping to control the clock and we have a very talented half back. We got some kids back last week that were injured and are starting to become ball players and getting more comfortable.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers will have their hands full with junior running back Matt McCarthy, senior quarterback Weston Ley and senior wide receiver Dylan Meyer.
“They have a lot of formations and they’re fast,” Gabel said of Fredonia’s offense. “They have a lot of talented kids that want space and create space. They have a lot of weapons and it’s very tough (to defend). You’ve got to be very disciplined and patient, because they are going to get plays on you.”
McCarthy, who was coming off a knee injury when the Hillbillies faced Allegany-Limestone last week, showed no ill effects as he rushed for 173 yards on 11 carries and five touchdowns, upping his season totals to 797 yards on 55 carries and 15 touchdowns.
“That was a little bit of a surprise,” Marshall said of McCarthy playing and producing last week against Allegany-Limestone. “His knee was iffy, but he got a brace on it and he healed quickly.”
Ley threw for 317 yards and two touchdowns as he went 19 for 27. One of those touchdowns went to McCarthy while the other went to Meyer, who finished with 188 yards on eight receptions.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Marshall said of Meyer. “He’s a heck of an athlete and he’s proving it by the way he can go up and get the ball. It’s impressive.”
Any way Gabel looks at it, he knows his team will have its hands full with the Hillbillies tonight, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to throw in the towel just yet, especially given that his team is coming off a thrilling 39-38 win over Falconer last week.
“They handled adversity (last week),” Gabel said. “They never gave up, they played well and that’s something I’m proud of. That’s something we have to build on this week and hopefully we show up this Friday. And I have confidence that we’re going to.”