From the opening possessions of Saturday’s Class C championship, Cleveland Hill made it clear: This was not going to be another 72-point day for Fredonia.
The defense set the tone by opening with two three-and-outs, the Golden Eagles took advantage of two key turnovers and senior Brandon Thomas ran for three touchdowns as Cleve Hill repeated as Section VI Class C champions with a 22-13 victory over Fredonia.
A crowd estimated at about 600 watched Cleveland Hill stifle a Fredonia offense that beat Akron, 72-42, in last week’s semifinals as the Golden Eagles beat the Hillbillies in the championship game for the second straight season.
It is the sixth sectional title for Cleveland Hill, which was making its third straight trip to The Ralph. Add in the Eagles’ 2007 title, and it marks three championships in the last seven seasons for the Cheektowaga school.
“We’re proud of our guys, everyone who has played in that blue and gold is proud of this team,” said Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham. “We’re happy to be going on after playing a great football team.”
Cleveland Hill (10-0) advances to its second straight Far West Regionals next Saturday at noon at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, where it will face Wayland-Cohocton (9-1) for the right to advance to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinals.
“It’s amazing – it’s a great experience for everybody, and the new guys,” said Thomas, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior who rushed 27 times for 114 yards. “This year we just plan on going farther. We’ve been to the other side before, we know what’s there, and now we want to get past that.”
Cleveland Hill and Fredonia both came into the game undefeated, marking the only such game during this year’s Championship Weekend. The teams were both ranked in the top five of The News small school poll (Cleve Hill No. 3, Fredonia No. 4) and the top 10 of the New York State Sportswriters Association Class C poll (Cleve Hill No. 5, Fredonia No. 8).
Last year Cleve Hill beat the Hillbillies, 22-20, in a game full of big plays that went down to the wire. Saturday’s game was a more thorough victory than the score indicated.
The Golden Eagles made a statement on each team’s opening drive. It sent Fredonia backwards on its first three-and-out drive, then went on an impressive, 13-play, 63-yard drive that lasted 5:16 and ended with Thomas going in from 2 yards out with 4:57 left in the opening quarter.
Cleve Hill led, 8-7, at halftime but took advantage of crucial turnovers in the third quarter to move ahead, 22-7. Thomas scored on a 4-yard run with 7:52 left in the quarter after the Golden Eagles recovered a muffed punt at Fredonia’s 10. Late in the quarter, senior Tyler Pawlowski forced a fumble Cleve Hill recovered at the Hillbillies 13. Thomas scored from the 1 just 29 seconds into the fourth.
Eagles QB Aaron Jackson ran 19 times for 54 yards.