Mustangs aim for 3-0 start against fast-paced Tigers
By Kevin Prise The Journal-Register
The last two weeks, Medina faced slower-paced offenses in Amherst’s double-wing and Maryvale’s Wing T Hybrid. The Mustangs had plenty of success, outscoring the two Class B North foes by a combined 92-20 margin.
The accolades are there, too. Now 2-0, Medina cracked the top 10 in this week’s coaches poll of local small schools, checking in at No. 10.
The team looks to carry the momentum into tonight’s home game against Akron (1-1) at Veterans Park, the third straight home game for the Mustangs. Akron brings a fast-paced, up-tempo offense that will bring unique challenges compared to Medina’s first two opponents, head coach Eric Valley said.
To prepare, Valley and his staff have preached tempo during this week’s practice, whether it be in standard drills, 7-on-7 play or full team work. Akron can be expected to run a lot of plays and force the Medina defense to spread itself out on the field, Valley said.
“It’s going to be much more up-tempo than what we’ve seen before,” Valley said. “It’s our first time seeing spread, and it’s a whole new monster for us. This week, we’ve been trying to do things that will push guys when they’re exhausted.”
The Tigers also bring a significant offensive threat in versatile wide receiver Austen Lauricella, who had 12 receptions for 201 yards in last week’s 28-13 loss at Cleveland Hill. Lauricella scored twice in the second half of that game, on catches of 35 and 50 yards from quarterback Carl Longwell.
Although the Medina defense has played admirably in allowing only two offensive touchdowns over the first two weeks (one of Maryvale’s scores came on a pick-six), the team carries plenty of respect for the challenges posed by the explosive Lauricella.
“That kid’s kind of haunted us the last couple of years,” Valley said. “He’s extremely explosive, and he’s very, very solid across the rest of the field. He’s a great special teams player, a great defensive player, they can put him in the slot, and they can put him at running back. He’s a guy that we’re really trying to slow down.”
Medina fell on the road at Akron in last year’s season opener, where quarterback Jason Hellwig didn’t start but saw his first varsity action. The Mustangs lost that night by two touchdowns, as Hellwig ‘understandably looked like a guy who was playing varsity for the first time,’ Valley said.
Valley said the extent of Hellwig’s development since that game will be key in the team’s fortunes tonight, as will the team’s ability to limit turnovers. In last year’s game, Medina gave the ball away five times.
“We were a little banged up, we had five turnovers and things steamrolled on us a bit,” Valley said. “The last couple of years, that team’s played us pretty physically, pretty tough, and we’re expecting the same thing this week.”
Albion didn’t fare as well last week, falling 48-0 at home to Burgard. The task doesn’t get any easier this week, as the Purple Eagles travel to Cheektowaga for a 7 p.m. matchup tonight.
Cheektowaga ranks No. 7 in this week’s local small schools poll, and Albion coach Tony Osburn realizes the extent of the challenge his team will face tonight, especially after last week’s disappointment.
Still, Osburn is happy about the way his team has bounced back in giving a strong week of practice, and he knows that the score will be 0-0 once the two teams take the field. Anything can happen.
“To try to contain Cheektowaga, what a great opportunity,” Osburn said. They’re a pretty well-rounded team on both sides, and there’s not any one specific guy we need to contain. We need to keep the ball in our hands and establish our guys, and maybe we can sneak by and surprise them.”
Osburn said that not much went right for his team last week. Albion struggled to find offensive chemistry and didn’t run or throw well, while turning the ball over on fumbles and giving Burgard a short field time and again, Osburn said.
But if that can change tonight, Osburn anticipates a different result.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to play Burgard and Cheektowaga back-to-back,” Osburn said. “They’re well-coached, they have great team speed, and we’ll need to make adjustments to contain the speed. But our guys will get off that bus ready to play, and we’ll go from there.”