By Kevin Prise
ALDEN — For coach Eric Valley and the Medina football team, making it to sectional playoff competition this season was a step in the right direction. After failing to qualify for two consecutive years, quarterback Jason Hellwig and the offense put up enough points in the regular season to lead the Mustangs to a 3-3 record in Class B North, effectively complementing the defense's improvement from a rocky performance in 2012.
It was the much-improved defense that helped Medina hang tough in the first half against Alden on Friday, as the Bulldogs went three-and-out on several possessions in the game's opening 24 minutes, only managing a single touchdown before the break.
But the Bulldog defense was plenty adequate itself, holding Medina to a single first down in the opening half. The Medina offense couldn't get anything going throughout the game, and Alden rolled to a 25-0 victory in a Class B football quarterfinal game at Alden High School on Friday evening.
Medina is now 4-4 on the season, and will conclude with a game against Wilson on Wednesday at Veterans Park (6 p.m.)
"Alden knows how to win," Valley said. "They've been doing it for a long time, and they're good at it. Our kids just aren't quite there yet."
The game started off in promising fashion for the Mustangs, as quarterback Brian Stoldt and the Alden offense went three-and-out on its opening two possessions, netting only a combined 10 yards over the two drives.
But the Mustangs came up empty as well on their opening two drives, despite a 23-yard reception by Kyle Barna on Medina's first offensive play, and Alden took over on its own 30 with 3:20 remaining in the first quarter. The Bulldogs quickly embarked on a seven-play, 70 yard drive in just over three minutes that culminated in a six-yard touchdown run by Lyle Grant with 18 seconds remaining in the quarter.
From there, however, the Medina defense stiffened again. Early in the second quarter, Devin Joy forced and recovered a fumble on the Medina 10-yard line that helped thwart an Alden drive, and the Medina defense stiffened in the red zone late in the first half after the Bulldogs had again driven to the 10.
The result was a 6-0 game at halftime, and the Mustangs came out of the locker room with plenty of intensity, encouraged by the one-possession margin against the No. 1 small school football team in Western New York.
"That was huge for us," Valley said. "Just giving up six points to a team like that, it gave us a glimmer of hope. We thought that if we continued to play that well, a couple of bounces could go our way."
But after the Mustangs went three-and-out to start the second half, Alden got the ball back and its own 34 and embarked on a seven-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off again by Grant, this time on a seven-yard run with 7:26 remaining in the third quarter. The score was now 12-0, and Medina just didn't have the offensive capability to generate a comeback against such a stout defense.
The Mustangs finally generated some offense on the subsequent drive, most notably on a 24-yard connection between Hellwig and Ty Hrovat to move the ball near midfield, but the drive stalled when a third-and-15 pass intended for Kyle Barna was batted away by a defender. Despite the offensive struggles, Barna was a beast on defense all night long, coming up with several tackles for loss as he swarmed from side to side throughout the game.
Alden took over again on its own 28 and marched down the field for another touchdown, as Stoldt led a drive that ate up clock and lasted into the fourth quarter. Grant scored his third rushing touchdown of the game on a 12-yard scamper, making the score 18-0 and essentially putting things out of reach.
On the next drive, midway through the fourth quarter, Hellwig was removed from the game for precautionary measures after a concussion. Sophomore wide receiver Dylan Lewis came in to finish the game at quarterback.
"With the game out of hand, we decided to take Jason out," Valley said. "He got pretty beat up over the course of the game, so we decided to let Dylan take some snaps for us."
Ultimately, Alden was just the better team, on a freezing-cold night in eastern Erie County. The Mustangs held tough for as long as they could, but Alden's physicality and otherworldly toughness ended up being the difference.
No Medina running back had over 40 yards on the ground, and Hellwig finished with 113 passing yards. Despite being shut down on offense, Munjie Brown led the team with 10 tackles, while Charles Beach had nine and Barna added eight.
"We just couldn't establish any sort of run game," Valley said. "They're a very physical team, and they play solid fundamentally all over the field. Our coaching staff did a great job this week preparing us to play them, and obviously it just didn't work out. We couldn't put points on the board, and Alden is No. 1 in Western New York for a reason."
Olean 21, Albion 6
ALBION — Ed Wolfe eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing milestone for the season, but the Purple Eagles dropped a 21-6 decision to Olean in the first round of the Chuck Funke Memorial Consolation Bowl Classic on Friday evening.
Wolfe scored on a 16-yard rush on Albion's opening drive, but from there it was all Olean. Jaryd Plaud rushed for 100 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came in the second quarter to give Olean a 14-6 lead at intermission. Plaud scored on a two-yard run in the fourth to effectively put the game away.
Wolfe ran for 98 yards on 20 carries, giving himself a total of 1,077 yards on the ground for the season, while also adding eight tackles and a fumble recovery. Kollin Reynolds, Steven Stauss and Clayton Stanton had nine tackles each for the Purple Eagles.
Albion falls to 4-4 on the season, while Olean improves to 4-4.
Starpoint 28, Barker/Roy-Hart 20
PENDLETON — Bill Bruning's Barker/Roy-Hart squad took a 20-14 lead at halftime, but couldn't muster much offense in the second half, as Starpoint came away with a victory in a non-league football contest on Saturday.
All-purpose threat Jacob Haight scored all three of Barker/Roy-Hart's touchdowns, on runs of two and 87 yards and on a 52-yard interception return.
Starpoint's Evan Majewski led the second-half comeback with touchdown runs of 11 and 19 yards.
Barker/Roy-Hart will conclude its season on Wednesday against Newfane in a non-league contest, with start time slated for 6 p.m. in Middleport.