So, the running back that started the season as quarterback is now back at running back, while a different running back is now lining up under center for Cleveland Hill?
Let’s, just call this the evolution of the Golden Eagles’ offense. The ‘O’ has definitely taken flight in recent weeks, regardless of who’s lining up under center – causing foes to go oh-oh, as each game on the schedule becomes more meaningful than the last.
The Eagles soared once again Saturday afternoon during a methodical 42-0 trouncing of Randolph/Frewsburg in a Section VI Class C semifinal at Gerald J. Hickson Stadium at Cheektowaga High School. Seniors Aaron Wahler and Javon Thomas led the ground-and-pound attack by combining for 287 of the team’s 329 total yards and accounting for five touchdowns.
They also led the way in big-play touchdowns with the shortest of their bundle going 30 yards – Wahler’s second score of the game which made it 22-0 minutes after Thomas had scooped up a punt he blocked for a 46-yard TD.
Wahler looked especially good for the two-time defending sectional champion, breaking tackles and patiently picking proper holes as the returning first team All-Western New Yorker carried the ball just nine times but did it for 181 yards, scoring on runs of 46, 30 and 70 yards. The first two scores came during Wahler’s first three carries of the game as Cleve Hill proved to be most economic with its scoring drives. The Eagles (8-1) ran just 28 plays but still put up 42 points to advance to New Era Field, where old friend Southwestern (9-0) awaits, in the championship game at 5 p.m. Thursday.
“We’re excited to go back,” said Wahler of the third straight championship contest between the Eagles and Southwestern. “They’re one of the best opponents that we’ve ever faced. It’s a game we’ve been looking forward to all year but we took it one game at a time. We’re excited to get back there.”
The Golden Eagles appear to be hitting their stride at the right time because their offensive line featuring Dopson Bulonza, Curtis Krajewski, Dar Cunningham, Taylor Durkin and Alex Rojek has jelled since their Week One loss at rival Maryvale.
The Golden Eagles also appear to be their usual scary self on offense because of a lineup tweak made a few weeks ago by coach Glen Graham that didn’t make many waves. That’s flipping Wahler from quarterback back to running back and moving Thomas from running back to quarterback.
Folks can joke that the move means little since the Cleve Hill quarterback usually has more rushing than passing attempts most seasons, even though Thomas has completed 5-of-8 attempts and the Eagles as a team have completed 12 passes on 18 attempts. Still there’s more to lining up at quarterback than just being able to accept the snap and throw an occasional pass that forces defenses to play honest.
“Having Javon at the quarterback spot gives us a little more for the running game and the option game as well,” Graham said. “We haven’t shown it as much but we figure as we get into the postseason that will be an important part of what we do offensively.”
So too is selling a handoff one way only to run a delayed bootleg the other, a skill Thomas flaunted well Saturday during a 65-yard touchdown. But Wahler really looked comfortable accepting handoffs, surveying the holes and deciding which defenders to bowl over while amassing yardage by the chunk.
He now has rushed for 23 touchdowns and is averaging 13.0 yards per carry.
“It’s helped Aaron a ton,” Graham said. “He’s really gone off since we’ve put Javon there but it’s really helped Javon. He can run it, throw it. He takes control of the offense and keeps us calm. It’s been a good move for us.”
Will it result in another championship moment for Cleveland Hill?
That’s still to be determined.
With an opportunity to return to The Ralph on the line, the Golden Eagles pounced on a cold, wet day.
Get ready for a lot of hoopla, as all five sectional finals are rematches of either regular-season or previous-championship games.
“That’s what we’ve been working for and it’s finally come into place,” Thomas said.