FHS?set for rematch with Cleveland Hill

When the Fredonia Hillbillies and Cleveland Hill Golden Eagles take to Ralph Wilson Stadium today in the Section 6 Class C championship game, it will be a rematch of last year’s title tilt.

However, this year’s game might not resemble anything close to last year’s 22-20 win by the Golden Eagles. Both teams are nearly complete opposites of what they were a year ago.

Last year, the Hillbillies relied heavily on their defense. The goal in 2012 was not to let the offense lose the game. Meanwhile, Cleveland Hill was an explosive offense, and this season, it is relying on its defense.

Fredonia’s offense has outscored its opponents, 416-108 this season. Meanwhile, its defense has the bend-but-don’t-break mentality this season. In fact, opponents’ offenses’ average 75 plays a game against the Hillbillies’ defense. On the flip side, Fredonia is running an average of 40 plays a game. Of course it doesn’t hurt when Fredonia has scored countless touchdowns on just the first, second or third play of a series all year.

“My defensive coaches are yelling at me that we are scoring too fast,” Fredonia coach Mike Marshall said. “We have good athletes in different positions. I’m trying to set the offense up so I can get the ball in the players’ hands so they can do something with it. Defensively, we are still adjusting and still learning. We have key people in key positions. The one thing our defense does is it gives up yardage, but we don’t give up touchdowns.”

Cleveland Hill has outscored its opponents 286-45 this season, including four shutouts.

“This has been a very special group on and off the field,” Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham said. “The real test will come (today). They have had just as much success as us. We are going to see. This is going to be a great opportunity for us.”

“They are well-balanced,” Marshall said of the Golden Eagles. “They seem to pass and run well. They are a well-coached team. We are going to have to wait and see what their surprises are this year. Last year they beat us on a surprise two-point play and I’m sure they have more of that up their sleeve.”

Returning for Cleveland Hill is Brandon Thomas, who rushed for133 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown run, in last year’s championship game.

This season, Thomas is averaging 108 rushing yards per game and has scored eight touchdowns.

“It’s a great situation for him,” Graham said of Thomas. “This is his third sectional championship game. He knows how to approach things and is leading our guys in helping them be as prepared as they can be.”

The Hillbillies will counter with Matt McCarthy, who has rushed for 30 touchdowns and 1,486 yards.

“McCarthy is a tremendous football player,” Graham said. “They have a lot of great players. I think we are mirror images of each other, in that there is a lot of athleticism. We are playing strong defense right now. We are hoping to be able to slow down or marginally disrupt what they are doing.”

Fredonia is not completely at 100 percent for this game as Cody Smith may be limited after hurting his ankle in last week’s win over Akron.

“He’d like to make us believe it’s all right,” Marshall said of the ankle. “I have a feeling we won’t be able to use him too much (today) unfortunately. It really impacts our defensive play and we will have to change things around. You can’t replace him.”

As both teams take to the field today, last year is still fresh in Fredonia’s mind.

“The boys were talking about how bitter it was to lose by just two points,” Marshall said. “We can’t wait to get it back.”

“Last year’s game was a battle,” Graham said. “Either team had a great opportunity to win. We were fortunate to come out on top. I’m sure it’s a motivator for Fredonia coming into this game.”