Ready for the Tigers

The Fredonia Hillbillies and Akron Tigers are no strangers.

Before moving to Class C South this past season, Fredonia was previously in Class C North. In 2012, Akron defeated Fredonia, 27-10, in the regular season to deny the Hillbillies a chance for the Class C North title.

While Fredonia is still undefeated, Akron comes into Saturday’s Class C semifinal game with a 6-2 mark.

The game will be played at Dunkirk’s Karl Hoeppner Field at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

“Any team that has gotten this far is definitely a contender,” Fredonia coach Mike Marshall said. “C North has always been a strong league. Akron has good speed and runs the spread offense.”

The Tigers are led by Austen Lauricella. In a 42-0 win over JFK this year, Lauricella had five receptions for 101 yards and two scores while also returning a kickoff 75 yards. On Oct. 11, Lauricella had 101 yards rushing and 133 yards receiving in a 35-24 victory over Lackawanna.

“They put him in a bunch of different positions,” Marshall said. “He catches the ball well. He is a breakaway runner. We have to know where he is and try to mirror him. It’s tough when they put him in the backfield as quarterback one play, a halfback the next play then they split him out (as a receiver). They put him all over. They use his talents really well throughout the game. We have to know where he is on every play and key. When I watch tape, Lauricella is the only one crossing the goal line. I haven’t seen anyone catch him from behind. The way he catches the ball impresses me. If they can open a seam, he is like a cannon.”

Marshall noted Akron is just as good running the ball up the middle as they are getting to the outside.

For Fredonia, they also have an explosive runner in Matt McCarthy. And while McCarthy has received all the attention this year, it would be an injustice to not give credit to the front five who makes the holes for McCarthy.

“They are just outstanding,” Marshall said of his offensive line. “Nick Formanowicz, Tony Swierk, Steve Mignolo, Nick Gloss and Jin Kim, those guys can really open holes.”

While McCarthy was nearly unstoppable last week in a win over Tonawanda, once he came out of the game, running back Cody Smith was equally impressive running the ball which was a testament to the offensive line opening up running lanes.

“The holes McCarthy and Smith ran through were huge holes,” Marshall said. “I’m a little surprised, but I think their quickness helps. We had the weight room open during passing league practices and those are the guys who showed up every Wednesday and Saturday and lifted and went through the fundamentals of blocking. It has really paid off this year.”

Fredonia has only been tested in one game this season, while a majority of the games have been decisive wins. Marshall is interested to see how his team will respond if the game is close.

“I want to see if we do get into that situation, how our boys will respond to that,” he said. “They did well when Southwestern caught up to us. We really haven’t had anything close since then. It will be interesting to see. We have pretty good poise. With the players we have and done things like make it to the Class B boys championship semifinals in basketball and won states in baseball. They have been in tough situations. I notice when they are challenged, they pull closer together as a team. Everyone steps up so far.”

All that stands in the way of Fredonia and a return trip to Ralph Wilson Stadium is the Akron Tigers.

“That’s our goal,” Marshall said of making it to the Ralph. “We would like to go past the Ralph for our team goals. We are focusing on this game. This is something Fredonia has done in the past under (former coach) Bob Ball. He has set the bar for us. They are a group of boys who have come together and work hard. They are very respectful. I can’t ask them to do much more than they already do. When we have to get serious, they step up to the moment and take care of business.”