Friday night, at Karl Hoeppner Field, Dunkirk (0-6) and Fredonia (6-0) will meet for the 121st time in one of Western New York’s longest-running varsity football rivalry games.
“I’m expecting (Dunkirk) to put up a good game because of the rivalry,” Fredonia head coach Mike Marshall said. “That usually brings out the best in any team and with the long rivalry that Dunkirk and Fredonia have, hopefully it will juice the kids up to the next level.”
The next level for the Hillbillies will be the Section 6 Class C playoffs, which will begin next week. For the Marauders, a win Friday night would make them forget about all of the close-call losses they’ve suffered this season.
“There’s no doubt,” Dunkirk head coach Tim Majka said when asked if this game is an easy one to get his players motivated to play. “Especially with the way the season went. We started talking Monday about how they have nothing left but to be the streak breakers. Not that they needed that motivation, but it’s a little something there for them.
“I think it’d be huge,” Majka continued. “As many close shaves as we’ve had, and as many times as we talked about different games getting away from us, I think everyone would forget about the first six if we get this one.”
The streak Majka was referring to is the 14-game winning streak the Hillbillies have been on since losing to the Marauders, 24-20, in 1998. Over that time, Fredonia has outscored Dunkirk, 323-137, and has recorded two shutouts (2002, 2007).
“I think this is going to be a good test,” Marshall said. “It was homecoming (last week) and they had to perform with all the extra curricular activities of that night. But the boys were able to focus and come up with a big game.
“To have to do that two weeks in a row, I want to see how they perform,” Marshall continued. “I want to see if they can get through all those distractions (of the rivalry game) and perform well.”
Majka knows that for the Marauders to have a chance to end the streak, his team will have to be able to keep up with what the Hillbillies are able to do on offense while establishing the run against the Fredonia defense.
“We’re going to have to, on defense, be able to run with Fredonia,” Majka said. “They’re fast, they get to the edges, (the offense) is not very complex, but they execute very well. It’s going to be a matter of keeping up with them and bringing them to the ground.”
Marshall knows where the weakness lies in his defense, but hopes it can prevent the Marauders from exploiting it.
“From the last game that Dunkirk played against East Aurora, I saw they liked to run through the tackles,” Marshall said. “Or off-tackle a little bit. We’re going to have to stop the run and our defense has had a little bit of trouble stopping other teams on the inside.”
Offensively, the Hillbillies have been led, in large part, this season by junior running back Matt McCarthy. But Marshall knows there is much more his offense can do.
“What I want them to do is come out and try to improve on the passing game a little more than we did (against Gowanda),” Marshall said. “And see how we can do on the run, but I don’t think I’ll be coming up with that much new this time of year.”
“You’ve got to focus on both aspects of the game,” Majka added. “We’ve played some passing teams this year and we can see what (Fredonia’s) patterns are. We’ve watched film of four games of theirs, but all we can do is get the guys as prepared as we can and hopefully they execute the plan we put in.”
Despite the Hillbillies decade-and-a-half run of success, he knows his players aren’t looking past the Marauders and toward the playoffs.
“We’ve got to pay attention and take care of business as it comes one week at a time,” Marshall said. “In the history of different rivalry games you see, the upsets are right around the corner. All you need in a game like this is one team getting momentum and it’s hard for the other team to get it back. That’s what scares me in a game like this.”