Who: Cleveland Hill Golden Eagles (10-1) vs. IV-Susquehanna Valley Sabers (11-0)
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Ty Cobb Stadium at Union-Endicott High School
Rankings: Cleveland Hill is ranked No. 4 in The News' small schools Poll and No. 2 in the New York State Sportswriters' Poll. Susquehanna Valley is ranked No. 1 in the state poll.
At NYSPHSAA semifinals: Cleveland Hill is 0-2, losing in 2017 to eventual state champion Skaneateles, 63-56, and in 2013 to Chenango Forks, 22-0. Susquehanna Valley is making its first appearance.
Coaching records: Cleveland Hill, Glen Graham, 15th season (113-37); Sus. Valley, Michael Ford, sixth season (35-21)
Cleveland Hill key players and statistics: Sr. RB/LB Aaron Wahler (144-1,853-29 TDs; 58 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries), Sr. QB/S Javon Thomas (150-1,423-17 TDs rushing; 5-10-135-2 TDs passing; 69 tackles, 5 INTs, 5 passes defensed, 1.5 sacks), Sr. DB/RB D'Mario Grant (45-362-4; 56 tackles, 1 INT, 5 passes defensed), Jr. LB/RB Chris Diem (100 tackles, 5.0 FL)
Sus. Valley key players and statistics: Sr. QB/LB Jarred Freije (50-80-1,104-13 TDs passing; 51-442-17 TDs rushing), Sr. RB Sethan King (43-424-4), Sr. WR Billy Sheridan (51-357-8 TDs rushing; 10-207-1 TD receiving), Sr. WR Alex Knewasser (7-222-3 TDs)
How they got here: Cleveland Hill defeated Section V champion Letchworth/Warsaw, 54-6, in the Far West Regional last week at Clarence High School. Despite rainy and slick conditions, Wahler rushed 16 times for 177 yards and three touchdowns, while Thomas added 128 yards on 16 carries and also scored three touchdowns.
Susquehanna Valley dispatched Section III champion Holland Patent, 43-7, in the Central Regional last week at Cicero-North Syracuse. Freije’s 63-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter gave the Sabers the lead for good and sparked their game-closing 37-0 run. Sheridan’s 20-yard run, his second of three TDs, and Kyle Leonard’s short score highlighted a 22-point second quarter by SV. Fourteen players had a rushing attempt for the Sabers.
Pre-snap read: Cleveland Hill has been working toward getting back to this game since it lost in last year’s state semifinal – a high-scoring affair in which it failed to protect a two-touchdown lead at halftime.
There’s no secret to Cleve Hill’s game plan. In order for the Golden Eagles to advance to their first state final, they must win the battle in the trenches, take advantage of their speed and protect the football. They must convert their scoring chances as they face an opponent that’s scored more than 30 points in every game but one (a 28-19 Week One win against Jamesville-DeWitt).
The Golden Eagles must limit big plays by the Sabers. Last year, big plays by Skaneateles’ quarterback Patrick Hackler (696 total yards, 384 rushing), who accounted for nine touchdowns, doomed the Eagles. They must not let SV quarterback Freije or any of the team’s other offensive weapons put up scary yardage totals.
Though SV attempted just two passes last week because of the weather, it is a fairly balanced team with multiple weapons. Ten players have at least 22 rushing attempts with Kyle Leonard (53), Sheridan (51) and Freije (51) leading them in carries.
SV’s defense can get after it and did so last week as Holland Patent had 27 plays that either gained no yards or lost yardage.
What’s next: The winner advances to the state championship game to face I-Dobbs Ferry or X-Ogdensburg Free Academy at 6 p.m. Nov. 23 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The East semifinal is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Middletown High.