Southwestern To Meet Cleveland Hill In Class C Football Final On Saturday
ORCHARD PARK — They say that history is written by the victors, and in the world of Section VI Class C football it has been North No. 1 Cleveland Hill that has had the power of the pen for the past two seasons.
However, at noon Saturday, South No. 1 Southwestern (7-2) will finally get the chance to author a new chapter in the history books, facing off for the second year in a row at New Era Field against an Eagles team that earned the 2016 title with a 52-21 win over the Trojans.
Not only will Coach Jehuu Caulcrick’s squad be looking to avenge last year’s loss and write their own success story, they will also attempt to turn the tide against three consecutive losses to the Eagles, including a 12-0 Cleveland Hill (8-1) win on Sept. 23.
“Last season to this year, they’ve always been a tough, physical, fast team,” said Southwestern’s Luke Heil. “They like to play fast, play smart, but we’re looking to play fast, hard and physical as well. They like big plays. We’ve got to stop that first.”
Through the past three meetings that Southwestern has had with the Eagles, it has been made crystal clear that one thing Cleveland Hill loves to do is run the ball.
One year ago with erstwhile running back Matt Eldridge leading the charge, the Eagles set a Section VI Championship record with 478 yards on the ground, and not much has changed about this year’s approach. This season has given way to Aaron Wahler’s time to shine in the backfield, as the 6-foot, 220-pound junior has racked up 1,330 yards rushing with 20 touchdowns, while adding 42 tackles on defense including eight for a loss.
Simply put, the Trojans have a train pulling up to the station that is going to be tough to stop.
“It’s mostly going to be won in the trenches, that’s where we have to really win the battles,” said Southwestern senior Brian Burns. “We also have to take them out of their comfort zone on offense. We’re going to want to have them pass more. They’re a running-style team so we’re going to want to get them out of that zone and try and make them pass the ball, which we’re comfortable with as a secondary.”
That defensive plan could certainly pay dividends for Southwestern, as Cleveland Hill quarterback Brett Kochanski has been held to just 252 yards on the season with three TDs and two interceptions.
While some may describe the Trojans as the polar opposite of the Eagles on offense, with junior standout Cole Snyder leading an aerial attack that includes 1,397 yards through the air for 17 touchdowns and two interceptions, Southwestern’s offense has looked more balanced as of late.
A rushing attack led by Burns (512 yards) has also seen touches from Heil (198 yards) as well as Snyder out of the backfield, and continues to help move the chains in tough spots. If the Trojans are looking to create time and space for their junior quarterback on Saturday, getting the rushing attack rolling would be a great place to start.
“The offense is starting to come together, the run game is really picking up, the offensive line, they’re gaining more confidence in the run game,” Caulcrick said. “That’s going to be huge for us, if we can be multifaceted on the offensive side of the ball instead of being one-dimensional we’ll have a chance to be successful. It definitely makes play calling easier as a coach if we have the option to run the ball or throw the ball, so that’s good and you just owe it all to the offensive line. They’re coming together well.”
Echoing Caulcrick’s sentiment about the Trojans’ big men up front was Burns.
“They’ve been tremendous these last couple of games, especially in the playoffs, grinding and stuff,” he said. “They’ve been really firing off the ball, especially in our last game when we scored 28 points in the first half. It’s just been awesome. Our linemen are pulling and blocking downfield amazingly.”
While Southwestern has been happy with the improvement in run blocking over the past several games, Cleveland Hill has benefited from some stellar line play on both sides of the ball.
In their first meeting of the year, the Eagles held Southwestern to just 39 rushing yards, as well as limiting Snyder to 112 yards passing with an interception.
Leading that defensive charge has been senior Manny Al-Hemyari, who likes where his linemates are at entering Saturday’s game.
“Our communication at the line is going to be very good for us to keep pushing, and our pass rush on defense is very good. We have a solid four linemen that we can trust on defense,” said Al-Hemyari.
The Trojans’ offense will also have to be wary of Ryan Majerowski, who leads the Eagles with 71 total tackles, while James Purpa enters the contest with 45 tackles, including five sacks.
“Cole is a very good quarterback. They are a pass-heavy offense,” said Wahler. “Hopefully we can pressure him, because I know no quarterback likes to be hit, so hopefully our defensive line can do what they do and that’s get into the backfield, get a couple hits on him and put the pressure on. Because if you don’t put pressure on him, he’s gonna make that throw every time.”
As easy as it is to look back in time to previous meetings between the two teams, anything can change in a playoff atmosphere and as Cleveland Hill head coach Glen Graham was very clear about, nothing is easy when it comes to beating a team twice in one season.
“Part of the problem with playing the second time in one year is we’re going to have to give them some different looks and do some different things,” said Graham. “But the big thing is we’re going to try and see if we can get them to be a little bit more predictable in down-and-distance situations. If we can get them into second-and-long and maybe get them into third-and-long, we can do some different things. That’s not going to be as easy to do as me just saying it, but that’s what we hope to do with any good offense, try to break their rhythm a little bit.”
While Southwestern was forced to work on defense without the services of Snyder in last week’s nail-biting win over Akron due to an illness, the Trojan quarterback will enter this weekend ready to lay it all on the line on both sides of the ball.
For the junior, familiarity has bred confidence with the Eagles.
“Well, it makes it a lot easier looking at film because instead of looking at a different team you are looking at them,” Snyder said. “You can game plan for what they did against you, so we have a pretty good idea what they are going to do against us and we just have to get a game plan together and see if we can execute.”