In a Class C championship game that featured huge scoring plays, Cleveland Hill used two to come from behind and seize the lead, then its defense hung on and prevented a final big play by Fredonia.
The Golden Eagles scored on touchdowns of 58, 75 and 84 yards and got a great bounce on a two-point conversion to edge the Hillbillies, 22-20, and win their fifth sectional title before an estimated 500 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Cleveland Hill (8-2) will play in the Far West Regionals Saturday at noon at All High Stadium. The Golden Eagles will face the Section V (Rochester area) champion for the right to go to the state final four. LeRoy (8-1) faces Hornell (9-0) for the Section V title at noon today at Sahlen’s Stadium.
“It’s a fantastic feeling for our team, a fantastic feeling for our community,” said Cleve Hill coach Glen Graham, whose team lost in last year’s championship game to eventual state runner-up Southwestern and last won a title in 2007. “We’re a tight-knit community and there’s a lot of pride there. I tell you what, my cell phone is going to be blowing up tonight. I’m going to get texts from all over the country because there’s a lot of people who have been paying attention to us and cheering us on.”
Fredonia (7-3), which won the 2010 C title, had a 14-6 halftime lead thanks in part to a 52-yard hook-and-lateral play in which standout junior quarterback Weston Ley found senior Jude Gardner, who lateraled to junior Cody Smith, who then ran down the left side for the score.
But Cleveland Hill took the momentum on the first play of the second half as junior Aaron Jackson returned the kickoff 75 yards. He initially fumbled the ball, but then used two spin moves to slice through the middle and then down the left sideline, tying the game at 14-all.
“I dropped it, then when I was picking it up I saw that people were coming, so I hit one spin,” said the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Jackson. “Then I saw the middle with my peripheral vision, hit another spin, made a move and just went down to the sideline.”
Just 3:30 later, Brandon Thomas (15 carries, 133 yards) busted through the middle and shirked a couple of tacklers on his way to an 84-yard run.
A two-point conversion that would prove critical was obtained in the strangest of ways. Senior quarterback Jacob Radlich (who had a 58-yard touchdown to senior Jared Watkins in the first quarter) threw a backwards skip pass off the turf to the left, where it knocked off the intended receiver and bounced forward into the end zone, where another Golden Eagle, Watkins, covered it. The play was ruled a fumbled lateral and the conversion counted for a 22-14 lead.
Those points remained the difference after Fredonia’s Ley (23 rushes, 104 yards; 11-22 130 passing) ran in from 10 yards out with 3:56 left to cut the lead to 22-20. On the conversion attempt, a pass went incomplete. After Cleve Hill was stopped on a fake punt on fourth-and-1 at its 41, Fredonia took over with 56 seconds left. The Hillbillies moved to the Cleve Hill 29 with 13 seconds left but its possession ended with an incompletion on fourth-and-10.
The tight game was fitting of the Class C season in which most games were close, including Fredonia’s 15-8 win over Cleve Hill in Week Five.