MEDINA — After a nearly season-threatening three-game losing streak, the Medina football team turned things around just in time last Friday, beating rival Albion 38-31 to earn a spot in this year’s Class B sectional playoffs.
Now, the do-or-die situation remains the same. In this week’s Class B quarterfinal matchup between B North 4-seed Medina and B South 1-seed Alden, the winner will advance, while the loser is done for the season. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. tonight in Alden.
Albion was no pushover, but Alden poses quite a daunting challenge.
“They’re a complete team,” Medina coach Eric Valley said of the Bulldogs, who have won 37 consecutive games in Section VI. “Their kids know how to win, and they have showed a lot of poise in all situations, coming from behind a few times. We know we’re going to have our hands full.”
Alden rolled through the regular season without a loss, producing a 7-0 record (6-0 Class B South) to set up what could be a lengthy playoff run.
To prevent that from happening, Medina will need to come up the type of performance it produced in season-opening blowout wins over Amherst (who defeated Lew-Port 21-20 last week) and Maryvale. Junior quarterback Jason Hellwig threw two passing touchdowns against Albion to break Levi Pace’s career record (Pace had 27; Hellwig now has 29), and Hellwig will be asked to come up big if the Mustangs hope to hang tough with the Bulldogs.
In preparation for tonight’s contest, Valley has tried to stick with the fundamentals in practice — which was held mostly inside on Thursday afternoon, to keep the poor weather from being a distraction as the team went through its pregame walk-through). The coaching staff points to Bulldog quarterback Brian Stoldt as a strong player who can take control of a game, while comparing the Alden team as a whole to Burgard — an opponent that defeated Medina 51-12 earlier this season.
Tom Follman led the Medina defense with 12 tackles against Albion, a feat made even more impressive considering the potentially season-ending concussion he suffered against Burgard four weeks ago. Follman and the defense will try to match Alden’s physicality early and throughout the game, Valley said.
“They are smash-mouth football, and they play with speed on the perimeter,” Valley said. “They’re similar to Burgard up front defensively; they’re very physical at the point of attack and they pursue well. Offensively, they have some similarities to Albion; they run the ball well off-tackle, but they can spread it out and throw, too.”
Valley said the Mustangs have frequently played against Alden in recent years, as the Bulldogs played in Class B North before moving to B South this season. Medina hasn’t defeated the Bulldogs since 2007, and Valley admits that tonight’s game won’t be an easy task.
This is Medina’s first berth in sectional play since 2010, when the team lost by eight points at Pioneer. Senior Kyle Barna played in that game as a freshman, the only current Mustang with prior experience in sectionals.
Medina hasn’t won a sectional game since 1988, when Larry ‘Doc’ Decker led the Mustangs to a 10-0 record and a victory over Albion in sectional play at Ralph Wilson Stadium (then Rich Stadium) in Orchard Park. Valley was a sophomore on that 1988 team, playing fullback and tight end.
Alden may not be Albion in rivalry terms, but after a 25-year stretch without a sectional win, the Mustangs would surely love to come out on top tonight.
“Our first goal was to qualify for sectionals, and our next goal is to win in sectionals,” Valley said. “It’s been a while. We’re very proud of getting the first goal, and we would be even prouder of the second. We have to be physical all four quarters, hold onto the ball, and hopefully good things will happen.”