On to the Ralph
By GIB SNYDER III
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
Anything Akron’s Austen Lauricella did Saturday night at Dunkirk’s Karl Hoeppner Field, Fredonia’s Matt McCarthy did just a little bit better as the junior running back helped the Hillbillies run past the Tigers, 72-42, and into the Section 6 Class C finals next weekend at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“You can watch the replay and if it wasn’t for the line and the receivers blocking down field, none of that would have happened,” McCarthy said. “All the yards and everything, I owe it all to my team.”
McCarthy scored on runs of 11, 2, 6, 6, 19, 75 and 63 yards, finishing with 316 yards on 20 carries and helping the Hillbillies to a return trip to the Sectional final.
The seven touchdowns by McCarthy are tied for third all time in state history.
“You just can’t say enough about him,” Fredonia coach Mike Marshall said of McCarthy. “Without him in the backfield, we’re a totally different team. He’s just hard to take down. He’s a different style runner than what we saw (Saturday). He doesn’t have that elusiveness or that quickness, but as we saw on the field, he’s got the speed and he’s got the toughness. He breaks tackles also, just in a different way (than Lauricella).”
Early on, it looked like Fredonia was going to be put to the test by Akron as the Tigers built early leads of 7-0, and 14-7, but the Hillbillies began to show why they are still undefeated.
Cam Voss forced Akron quarterback C. Jay Longwell to fumble deep in Tigers’ territory, leading to McCarthy’s second touchdown. Then, after the Hillbillies took a 20-14 lead on McCarthy’s third touchdown, Akron fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which led to a 13-yard touchdown from Weston Ley to Cody Smith. After a two-point try failed, Fredonia held a 26-14 lead with 5:16 left in the first half.
“Any of these games and any of the games we’re going to play in the future, turnovers will dictate who wins,” Marshall said. “If you can take advantage of another team’s turnovers, you’ve basically got the game (won).”
“Those were huge,” Akron head coach Mike Dean added of the his team’s turnovers. “In our game plan, we said that the team that won the turnover battle was going to win. And that’s usually always true in football. If we don’t take care of the ball, it sets (the other team) up and they did. We set them up with some easy touchdowns.”
The Tigers added a touchdown with 3:57 left in the half on an 8-yard run by Brendan Weierheiser, which cut the Hillbillies’ lead to 26-21.
“We better learn and figure out some ways to stop some people,” Marshall said. “We scored a lot of points, but the people we were playing against scored a lot of points too. We’ve got to make some changes on that.”
The Hillbillies and Tigers exchanged punches in the second half, with McCarthy and Lauricella trading touchdown runs, leaving the score 32-29 with 7:14 left in the third quarter.
“It was great fun,” McCarthy said of going up against Lauricella, who finished with 312 yards on 29 carries, which included three touchdowns. “He is a great player. He was so quick and he was running all over us. My hat’s off to him.”
From that point however, the Hillbillies began to widen the gap on the scoreboard as Smith scored from 8 yards out and McCarthy from 19 to put Fredonia up 44-29 with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a high-scoring game,” Dean said. “We knew their offense was similar to ours and puts up a lot of points.”
McCarthy then helped put the game out of reach with his two long scoring runs as the Hillbillies built an insurmountable 58-36 lead with 11:42 left in the game.
“We knew he was going to break some big ones,” Dean said of McCarthy. “And we talked about it with our boys that if he breaks a big one, we just have to come back and keep playing.”
Fredonia’s final two scores came on a 56-yard pass from Ley to John Piper with 7:34 left in the fourth and a 2-yard jaunt by Ley with 2:38 remaining in regulation.
“The reason he’s there is he makes the right decisions,” Marshall said of Ley. “And he’s got the ability to make things happen.”
Ley finished 10 of 17 for 162 yards and two touchdowns while Piper had three receptions for 87 yards to lead all Fredonia receivers.
“It was pretty much (going to) be the last one standing,” Dean said of who he thought was going to win the game. “Later in the game, our depth came into play and that’s what we lack. We’ve had a lot of injuries and the last three weeks, we’ve had three or four starters out, so just getting them back in off fresh injuries was tough.”
Fredonia did appear to suffer a huge loss in the second half as Smith, who had two touchdowns on offense and 17 total tackles on defense, as well as an interception, went down with what Marshall thought could be a broken ankle.
“The initial injury on Cody Smith doesn’t sound good,” Marshall said. “They think it might be cracked or broken, so I’ve got to check on that. That will be a big loss for our team.”
Up next for the Hillbillies will be a rematch with Cleveland Hill, which beat Fredonia 22-20 in last year’s Class C final at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“I cannot wait,” McCarthy said of playing Cleveland Hill in the Sectional final at 1 p.m. next Saturday. “It was a bitter loss last year and ever since that loss, I’ve wanted to get back to that same spot and beat them this time.”
NOTES: As a team, the Hillbillies ran for 442 yards on 38 carries, scoring nine touchdowns on the ground … McCarthy added 52 yards on two receptions and had an interception on defense … Ley added 85 yards on 11 carries to go with his 162 yards passing … Steve Mignoli had 12 total tackles for the Hillbillies on defense while Jake Rinus assisted on 13 tackles in the win.