High school football preview countdown: Class C preview
This is the fifth in a series previewing Western New York high school football in advance of Week 1. Today: Class C.
Teams: Nineteen divided into three divisions.
C North: Akron, Cleveland Hill, Medina, Newfane, Tonawanda, Wilson.
C Central: Alden, Depew, Eden, JFK, Lackawanna, Springville.
C South: Allegany-Limestone, Cassadaga Valley/Falconer/Maple Grove, Chautauqua Lake, Brocton/Westfield, Fredonia, Gowanda/PV, Salamanca, Southwestern.
Who’s new? Depew. Salamanca. Maple Grove, which is now merged with CV and Falconer. Who’s gone? Clymer/Sherman/Panama. Defending champion: Medina defeated reigning champion Southwestern, 21-13, on May 14 at Veterans Park in Medina. Brian Fry scored two touchdowns and recovered a Southwestern fumble inside Medina’s 10 in the final minute to preserve the Mustangs’ first title-game triumph since 1988. Returning All-WNY first teamers: None.
What to expect: The three division champions, the three second-place teams in each division and the top two third-place finishers make the playoffs. With point differential being a part of the tiebreaking procedure among the third-place finishers for the postseason, there may be some instances in which a team winning rather handily may need to run up the score just to make sure they secure the maximum 20 points allowed for their point differential.
C North: Medina graduated stud athlete and first team All-Western New York pick Fry but still has numerous talented kids, including four who earned spots on either All-WNY second or third team or honorable mention. That includes returning quarterback Xander Payne, who threw for 1,054 yards and 15 TDs. Defensive end Joe Cecchini had seven sacks. Mustangs have nine returning starters on defense and seven on offense. Other key players for Medina include defensive linemen Chris Johnson and Dominic Larabee, Zach Oliver, Hayden Woodroe and Robert Arnold. Akron went 5-1 overall but circumstances beyond its control limited the Tigers to just two league games, which they split. The Tigers won their Funke Bowl game versus Lackawanna and hope to ride that momentum into sectionals this fall. Among Akron’s four returning starters are two-way lineman Matt Covell and quarterback/safety Travis Fry. Chris Bergman is a key addition to the team, according to coach Andy Clouse. Cleve Hill finished tied for second in this division at 2-2. Looking to help the Eagles make a push for the postseason are seniors Justin Rojek, Chase Williams and Josh Walters.
C Central: Lackawanna returns seven starters on each side of the ball. Receiver seems to be its strength with senior Matt Rodriguez and juniors Ashlynn Alexander and Shyhiem Smalls. They are fast with good hands. Smalls set the school record for receptions in a game last year (nine). Bill Gechell returns at quarterback. Jorryn Jones is an O-lineman who leads by example, per coach Adam Tardif. Sunday Ikegwuonu is 6-3, 220 and should be a force on the D-line for the Steelers, along with linebacker Chamarr Ware.
JFK turned some heads late last season when it drubbed playoff-bound Eden in the regular-season finale. First-year coach Lindsey Taylor has 11 returnees from that squad. Keep an eye on running back/linebacker Michael Thomas Zeltman, along with Adam Lewandowski, Jared Meredith, Michael Zeltman, Bryce Firkins, Devan DiPasaquale and Dominic Maggorie.
Springville won twice last year after two winless seasons. The Griffins return 14 seniors from that team. Cole Baker starts at running back and corner. He rushed for more than 900 yards last season. He’s expected to be busy most games, second-year coach Brian Kader said. Four of five guys on the line are back. Zach Scime is three-year starter and plays center and defensive end. Six-foot-4 Tom Orndorff moves from quarterback to wide receiver. Junior Gabe Murphy will play quarterback after missing all of the shortened Fall II with an injury. C South: Southwestern has made it to the sectional final five straight years. The Trojans believe they have enough to make a run to the title game once again. They return second-team All-WNY signal caller Aidan Kennedy, who as a junior led Western New York in passing yards (1,244) and tossed 16 TDs. He will be protected by senior lineman Dontae Hoose, juniors Mitch Pike and Paul Hayes and senior tight end Ashton Mathews. Receiver Matt Pannes could be Kennedy’s go-to man with the graduation losses of All-WNY pick Garrett Swan and Nate Johnson. Jason Ni should get time at receiver and running back.
Fredonia just missed the playoffs last season with a 3-2 mark. The team goal is to compete every week and hopefully when the dust settles be in position to compete for a title. Among the Hillbillies’ 13 returning starters are junior quarterback Nick Whitfield, who has an offer from Long Island University. Other key players include RB/LB Owen Rush, receivers/defensive backs Simon Davis, Davon McCall and Brandon Wronski and linemen Shawn Farnham and Izzy Martinez. Senior Hayden Hoag takes over at quarterback for Salamanca, which moves into Class C after reaching the Class D final last season. The line should be anchored by Kody Shinners. Running back Jesse Stahlman also returns for coach Chad Bartoszek’s crew.
Circle the date: Sept. 10: Southwestern at Salamanca, 7 p.m. Last season’s Class C runner-up makes the trip North to face last season’s Class D runner-up in a key C South division clash.
Sept. 18: Medina at Lackawanna, 1 p.m.: Defending Class C champions make the long roadie for a nonleague game against a potential title contender. Sept. 30: Fredonia at Salamanca. Thursday night lights on the reservation. Winner improves odds of making the playoffs while the loser could be scrambling. Title time: The final is at noon Nov. 13 at Highmark Stadium. The winner advances to Far West Regional at noon Nov. 20 at a site to be determined in Section VI. Semifinals are at Cicero-North Syracuse the weekend of Nov. 26-27. The championship game is scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 3-4 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Outlook: Of course it depends on how seeding unfolds, but how about Medina versus Southwestern – this time at Highmark.