Fredonia Clinches Sectional Title Berth
When the Fredonia Hillbillies beat the Southwestern Trojans 27-25 earlier this season, every fan in attendance got every bit of excitement they could have asked for. It only seemed fitting that the two teams would meet again. Only this time, they met with a spot in the Sectional Championship on the line.
Somehow, the two teams managed to live up to the hype. When it was all over, the Fredonia Hillbillies defeated the Southwestern Trojans by a score of 28-21 in the Section VI Class C Semifinals at Dunkirk High School on Friday night to advance to the championship game.
“It’s just amazing,” said Fredonia senior quarterback Nick Whitfield. “That’s everyone’s dream. … Now we’re there.”
Hillbillies head coach Greg Sherlock has made the trip to the Sectional Final many times, even going back to his time as a player. Now he gets to take his Fredonia team to the same heights.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted since I started coaching. I wanted to be a head coach and do it,” said Sherlock. “I played in the first high school game in 1979 for Randolph. … It’s just something that never gets old. I wanted these kids to experience that.”
Fredonia (10-0) immediately was tested on Friday night, as Southwestern (6-4) recovered an onside kick to begin the game. Senior quarterback Aidan Kennedy opened with a 35-yard completion to set the Trojans up at the 1-yard line just seconds into the game.
But Fredonia learned a thing or two from the first contest. The Hillbillies finished off a goal-line stand to keep the Trojans off the scoreboard.
Whitfield later connected with Ethan Fry on a slant over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown to give Fredonia a 7-0 lead. Then it was time for Matthew Lotter to take over, as the Fredonia senior running back punched in two short touchdown runs to balloon the Fredonia lead to 21-0.
“The two touchdowns, anyone could’ve walked in that end zone,” said Lotter, who credited his offensive line. “The boys in the trenches were pushing hard.”
But anyone that saw the first matchup between the two teams knew the Trojans would not go away easily — and they sure didn’t.
“It’s that never give up attitude. These kids know that you’ve got to fight to the last whistle,” said Southwestern head coach Jake Burkholder. “Those kids busted their butt. They gave it everything they had. I couldn’t ask more from those kids.”
Southwestern got on the board as Kennedy connected with Cameron Lemk for a 16-yard touchdown on 4th & 1 late in the first half to give the Trojans a boost going into halftime. Southwestern did not allow Fredonia to score on the ensuing drive, and at the break, Fredonia’s lead was down to 21-7.
In the last contest between the two teams, Southwestern was trailing by two scores with under three minutes remaining, yet managed to have a two-point conversion attempt as time expired with a chance to tie the game. The Trojans obviously could come back from a two-score deficit at halftime — and that’s exactly what happened.
“They always come to play. It’s never an easy match with them,” said Lotter. “Props to them, they played a hell of a game.”
Kennedy cut the deficit in half with a 3-yard touchdown run to open the second half scoring. Then, the Trojans recovered yet another onside kick — their second in three attempts. That fact was even more impressive given that Southwestern was extremely short-handed on Friday night, with many of its special teams players unavailable because of Covid-19 protocols.
Southwestern quickly drove down the field once again, and Kennedy found the end zone on a stellar run featuring a spin move and multiple broken tackles on his way to a 16-yard touchdown dash.
“Aidan (Kennedy) is a heck of a quarterback. He’s one of the best to come through Southwestern,” said Burkholder.
Just like that, Southwestern came all the way back and the score was tied at 21-all with 7:30 remaining in the third quarter.
“Our kids played a heck of a game, especially in those second and third quarters,” said Burkholder.
In a matchup between two of the best quarterbacks in the region, it came down to which defense made the key plays in the big moments. The answer was as clear as day by the time the clock hit 0:00 — Fredonia’s defense got the job done.
The Hillbillies forced Kennedy to throw three interceptions in the fourth quarter — with senior defensive back Simon Davis, junior lineman/linebacker Matt Cash, and finally, sophomore defensive back Jameson Quinn as the beneficiaries.
“A sophomore in there got the game-winning pick. A sophomore, that’s huge,” said Whitfield.
Quinn’s interception came in the red zone with just over a minute left in the game, which set Fredonia up with a chance to clinch the game with a first down. Of course, Whitfield wasn’t going to let that opportunity slip through his fingers. The Fredonia star quarterback kept the ball himself and pushed forward for a first down to end the game and sent his Hillbillies to the Section VI title game.
Up next for Fredonia is the top-ranked team in Class C in all of New York State, the undefeated defending Section VI Champion Medina Mustangs.
“Our team is battle-tested,” said Whitfield. “We play tough teams in Class C South. … We came out and rose above all of them.”
The Class C championship game is scheduled for Saturday, November 13 at noon on the home field of the Buffalo Bills, Highmark Stadium.
“Once we get there, wherever Josh Allen usually sits, I’m going to be all over that seat,” joked Lotter. “Wherever he sits, that’s mine.”