MEDINA — Last season, Medina put together the magical season that the program had been waiting for for over three decades. In dominant fashion, the Mustangs rolled to their first Section VI title in 33 years, eventually beating perennial power Southwestern in the Class C title game to cap an undefeated, COVID-19-shortened season that limited the regular season, as well as the postseason tournament.
And while that title for Medina ended a long drought, it was also won on its home field at Veterans Memorial Park, as because of pandemic conditions and protocols, all games were held at the higher seed’s home field. This fall, amid another undefeated run, the Mustangs get a chance to end another drought as it goes for two straight Section VI Class C blocks.
Saturday at noon, the top-seeded Mustangs will meet No. 3 seed Fredonia for the Class C crown at Highmark Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. This will mark the first trip to the championship game at the Bills’ home stadium since 1988, when the Mustangs topped rival Albion 14-7 for the Class B2 championship.
“Getting to the stadium is the next step in our season,” Medina head coach and athletic director Eric Valley said. “We have talked about it since August and we are focused on this game. This is a great opportunity and experience for our program. Our kids are excited to play in a game of this magnitude. Winning a sectional title at home was an amazing experience, and to follow that up with an opportunity to chance to win one at ‘The Ralph’ is just incredible.”
In Fredonia, Medina will get a team that hasn’t been as dominant as itself, but one that comes into the title game undefeated nonetheless. The Hillbillies routed Akron 45-6 in the opening round of sectional play, while they were able to edge Southwestern 28-21 in the semifinals last week. The win over Southwestern marked the third close game for Fredonia this year, which included a one-point win over Olean in the opening week of the regular season and a two-point win over the same Southwestern team midway through the year. The Hillbillies also had a forfeit win over Chautauqua Lake, while they needed big second helves to pull away from Allegany Limestone, Salamanca and Dunkirk during the regular season.
For the season Fredonia has outscored its opponents 341-143, which has included 129-59 in the second half.
The Hillbillies will come in with a balanced offensive attack, led by senior running back Matthew Lotter and senior quarterback Nick Whitfield. In the top 20 in Section VI in rushing, Lotter has rushed for 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns on 126 carries, while Whitfield is a dual-threat QB who can get it done with his arm and his legs. For the year Whitfield has gone an impressive 117-of-182 for 1,694 yards and 16 touchdowns with just a pair of interceptions, while on the ground he has rushed for 631 yards and 12 TDs on just 72 carries. Whitfield is currently ninth in Section VI in passing yards.
With junior Micah Davis also rushing for 293 yards on just 26 carries, Fredonia has rushed for 2,043 yards at nearly nine yards per carry.
The Hillbillies also have a three-pronged receiving attack with seniors Davon McCall and Simon Davis and junior Ethan Fry. Fry leads the team in all categories with 35 catches for 488 yards and eight TDs, while McCall has 31 catches for 412 yards and Davis has 19 grabs for 386 yards; Davis and McCall both have three receiving TDs.
Lotter has also been one of the top defensive players in Section VI from his linebacking position as he has racked up an impressive 128 tackles — four for a loss — with three sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Micah Davis has also had a strong year with 82 tackles, while McCall has 69 stops and a sack, Matt Cash has 54 tackles and an interception and Simon Davis has 47 tackles and a pick. Lineman Alex Paluch leads the team with six sacks, while linebacker Sam Atzrott has four sacks to go with 45 tackles.
Fredonia will be looking for its first Section VI crown since it beat Southwestern 12-10 for the Class C block in 2010.
“The keys will be to be physical and consistent for all four quarters,” Valley said. “We need to minimize mistakes and capitalize on opportunities.”
Medina will enter having won 16 consecutive games and as the No. 1 team in the latest New York State Sportswriters Class C poll, a position it has held all season. The Mustangs have had a relatively easy time all season, including beating Eden/North Collins 30-14 in the quarterfinals and Lackawanna 32-0 in the semifinals.
Medina’s only real test of the fall came in the final week of the regular season when it rallied to top rival Albion 30-28 in a back-and-forth game.
With one of the top offenses and top defenses around, Medina has easily been one of the most impressive teams in all of Section VI — regardless of class — over the last two seasons. This season the Mustangs have outscored their opponents a whopping 418-83, with seven of their 10 wins coming by at least 30 points.
Despite struggling a bit last week in the win over Lackawanna — going just 7-of-18 for 94 yards and a pair of interceptions — senior QB Xander Payne has been the leader for this offense for two seasons (Payne did run for 48 yards and a pair of scores last week). On the season Payne has been phenomenal, going 87-of-154 for 1,368 yards and 21 touchdowns with just four interceptions, while he has also run for 185 yards and four more scores.
Though leading rusher Iverson Poole had just 10 yards last week on the ground, the balanced Medina rushing attack ran for nearly 200 yards in the semifinal win and can get it done on the ground with a number of athletes. Wide receiver Greg Thompson led the team with 67 yards on the ground last week, while the senior Poole (65 carries-568 yards, 10 TDs) and junior Noah Skinner (59-565, 7 TDs) both have over 500 yards on the ground this fall.
Robert Arnold has also rushed well with 300 yards and four scores for a Medina team that has rushed for 2,264 yards in all, at 8.7 yards per carry.
These guys run behind a group of big-time linemen in Roosevelt Mitchell (6-4, 320 lbs.), Josh Wilson (6-1, 190), Chris Johnson (6-0, 255), Colvin Stalker (5-10, 200), Zach Oliver (5-8, 220) and Ollie Wilson (6-3, 210).
Senior Jarin Rhim leads a strong wide receiving core with 31 catches for 402 yards and seven TDs, while Thompson (16-370. 5 TDs), Joe Cecchini (19-297, 4 TDs) and Poole (10-177, 4 TDs) have also been keys in the aerial attack.
The Medina defense has also been special all season and last week it was on full display as it limited Lackawanna to just 91 total yards — with just 57 on the ground on 24 carries — while it also forced three turnovers. Johnson and Cecchini each had two sacks on the night as the Mustangs had six sacks in all.
Skinner has paced the defense all season and he leads the team with 61 tackles — two for a loss — with six sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Hayden Woodroe (49 tackles, two for a loss, sack, three INTs), Cecchini (44 tackles, six for a loss, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles) and Chris Johnson (43 tackles, six for a loss, four sacks, two fumble recoveries) have also been huge for a defense that has allowed well under 10 points per game in each of the last two seasons.
Poole has added four interceptions, Thompson has three picks and Arnold has six sacks for this aggressive group that has 42 total tackles for a loss this fall. Medina has also forced 23 turnovers, while junior Dominic Larabee leads the team with seven tackles for a loss to go with three sacks and a trio of fumble recoveries.
“Many of my kids, especially the seniors, have played for multiple sectional titles over their high school careers,” Valley said. “This is another important chapter in their young lives. They have worked extremely hard over the last few years and it is paying off for sure.”
The winner will get the winner of the Section V title game between No. 1 seed East Rochester/Gananda and No. 3 Bath-Haverling in the NYS Class C Far West Regional final next weekend at Williamsville South High School.