In a showdown of two of the top quarterbacks in Western New York, the winning team came away on top because of three rushing touchdowns, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and most of all, a stopped two-point conversion try with no time left on the clock.
Sometimes that’s just how the game goes – and what a game it was.
The Fredonia Hillbillies defended the Orange Bowl with a 27-25 victory over the Southwestern Trojans in Class C South high school football action on Friday night in Fredonia.
“I’m very happy with the last play of the game. That’s all I can say,” said Fredonia head coach Greg Sherlock. “I’m not going to say that was just another game, because it wasn’t. We all know it wasn’t just another game.”
The contest was a battle of two of the better teams in Class C, as Fredonia (5-0, 4-0) and Southwestern (3-3, 2-2) both had won their previous three games by at least 20 points in each contest. Fredonia also held a comfortable fourth quarter lead in this contest, but by the end of it, both teams left the field as battle-tested as a pair of teams can be.
It looked early on like both teams would keep up the scoring pace they have become accustomed to. After a three-and-out from the Trojans to start the game, Fredonia took just three plays to strike first. Fredonia quarterback Nick Whitfield kept the ball himself and took off through the Southwestern defense for a 38-yard touchdown run. Less than four minutes into the game, Fredonia led 7-0.
Southwestern quarterback Aidan Kennedy and his offense answered on the next drive, with a quick completion to Cameron Lemk and a big run by Matt Pannes to enter the red zone. Kennedy capped off the 69-yard drive with a 1-yard keeper to even the score at 7-7 with 6:20 left in the first quarter.
The Hillbillies offense did not have to take the field before reclaiming the lead, as Simon Davis took a bouncing kick and returned it all the way for a house call, putting Fredonia right back out on top 14-7, just 13 seconds after the Trojans tied the score.
After the high scoring start, the game slowed down a bit, as it took until 4:00 remained in the second quarter for more points to be scored. Whitfield kept it himself on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line to double the Fredonia lead to 21-7.
Southwestern threatened to score on the final possession of the half, but could not convert in the red zone. A 22-yard field goal attempt with nine seconds left in the half was no good, ending the first half with a 21-7 Fredonia lead.
The Hillbillies started the second half much like they started the first half, as Whitfield capped off a quick scoring drive with a long touchdown run. Whitfield leaped into the end zone to cap off a 23-yard touchdown run and extended the Fredonia lead to 27-7 just 1:32 into the second half.
Southwestern would eventually answer early in the fourth quarter. After a big completion from Kennedy to Matt Pannes for 48 yards, Kennedy found Jameson Walsh on the next play for a 18-yard touchdown connection. The extra point was no good because of a high snap that led to an incompletion.
After the score, Fredonia led Southwestern 27-13 with 8:17 left in the game. The Trojans failed to recover an ensuing onside kick, but forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at their own 13-yard line, down by 14 with 6:29 remaining in the game.
Facing 3rd-and-16 deep in their own territory, Kennedy kept the drive alive with a 16-yard scramble to pick up a first down.
Later in the drive, however, the Hillbillies appeared to put the game away with an interception inside their 10-yard line by Ethan Fry. He returned the interception to midfield, with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
Southwestern got the ball back at its own 33-yard line with 1:15 left in the game, but down two touchdowns, there was not seemingly enough time left for the Trojans to mount another major threat.
But as Sherlock said after the game, “You never count Southwestern out.”
Fredonia’s home crowd surrounded the end zone, ready to storm the field in victory, but Kennedy had plans to spoil their celebration.
With 18 seconds left in the game, Kennedy broke multiple tackles to fight his way into the end zone from 12 yards out. After a two-point conversion was no good, Fredonia held an 8-point lead, 27-19.
Still needing an onside kick to come back to tie the game, Southwestern was still facing a huge uphill climb to force overtime. However, that climb seemed much more possible after recovering an onside kick with 13 seconds remaining, which gave the Trojans the ball at the 40-yard line with a chance to extend the game.
“We practiced it so much. We watched every single tape, but they got us,” said Sherlock.
After a 23-yard completion down the Southwestern sideline left the Trojans 17 yards away with only five seconds left on the clock, it came down to one last chance to reach the end zone – and Kennedy would not be denied. The Southwestern quarterback scrambled to his left and soared beyond two Hillbillies defenders into the end zone with no time left on the clock.
“They showed that they are not going to give up,” said Southwestern head coach Jake Burkholder of his team. “We had a lot of kids step up. … To fight back and give us an opportunity with literally no time on the clock, that’s all you can ask for.”
The final result came down to a two-point conversion attempt by Southwestern that was stuffed up the middle by a group of Fredonia defenders to finish off the 27-25 victory – Fredonia’s first victory over Southwestern in over a decade.
“I was thinking ‘This is a championship play. This is what wins championships’ – and we got it done. … What matters is that we stood tall at the end,” said Fredonia linebacker Matthew Lotter, who was part of the group of tacklers that finished off the final play.
Winning in that fashion against Southwestern – of all teams – stood out to many involved in the win.
“It means everything. I’ve been waiting to beat these guys since my sophomore year. They came down here and beat us by a pretty big margin,” said Lotter, a senior. “This game has been marked in my book for a long time. In my senior year … we made it happen.”
“It felt amazing,” added Whitfield, also a senior. “We knew that coming into the game, these guys have been running all over us for a long time. … We bent, but we didn’t break. … Now the streak is over.”
Whitfield, who tallied 13 total touchdowns in four games prior to Friday night, added three more to his credit on Friday – all on the ground.
“We can only take what they give us,” said Sherlock. “Nick Whitfield … he has blossomed so much. He reads things so well. Some of those [runs] were his call, and when he kept it, he did the right thing.”
Kennedy also finished with three touchdown runs, along with a passing touchdown in the defeat. Two of his rushing touchdowns featured broken tackles to reach the end zone with under a minute left to play in the game.
“He’s not going to shy away from anybody,” said Burkholder. “I love watching him play and I love coaching him.”
The Hillbillies have league games with the Chautauqua Lake/Westfield/Brocton Thunderbirds and the Falconer/Cassadaga Valley/Maple Grove Golden Cougars to finish out the Class C South portion of Fredonia’s schedule. Then, the Hillbillies close the regular season on Friday, Oct. 22 in the classic Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry at the home of the Dunkirk Marauders.
The Trojans close the regular season with a pair of home games against Class C South opponents, as Allegany-Limestone heads to Lakewood next week, followed by the Golden Cougars the following week.
Photos by Braden Carmen