Medina-Albion rivalry football game carries much meaning
Playoff berth on the line in 116th meeting
By Kevin Prise The Journal-Register
The Medina and Albion football teams would appear to be headed in distinctly opposite directions at this point in the season. Coach Eric Valley's Mustangs have lost three games in a row after a promising 3-0 start, while coach Tony Osburn's Purple Eagles have won three in a row after a 1-2 start.
The longtime Route 31 rivals collide in tonight's Class B North regular-season finale, with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. at Albion High School. Regardless of either team's record, the Medina-Albion game always carries added meaning based on the proximity between the two schools.
"Growing up in Albion, it was always a big game," Osburn said. "As a coach, you can pretend you don't know what week on the schedule it is, but you do. The Medina game is always a big game."
"I've been involved in this for 20-plus years as a player, coach and father, and it's a very special rivalry," Valley added. "It's been going on for so many years, it's two close communities, and a lot of people that know each other back and forth."
But this year, the outcome will carry even more weight. Playoff implications are at stake.
In Class B North play, Albion is 3-2, tied for third place with Bennett. Medina is 2-3 in the league, tied with Lew-Port and Amherst. Based on the system of tiebreaker scenarios, Medina needs to win by five or more points to secure one of the top four spots in the league — and the subsequent berth in sectional play — Valley said. If the Purple Eagles win, they secure a postseason berth.
Although recent results would suggest that Medina has tailed off near the end of the season, while Albion has surged, the truth is the Mustangs enjoyed a much easier schedule early in the season, while Albion's schedule has loosened up near the end. Medina's first two league opponents were bottom-feeders Amherst and Maryvale, while Albion started with league heavyweights Burgard and Cheektowaga.
All things considered, tonight's game looks to be a battle of strong offenses that possess contrasting styles of play. Medina is led by junior quarterback Jason Hellwig, who likes to spread the field to make the best use of a variety of offensive playmakers — such as Munjie Brown, Kyle Barna, Dylan Lewis and Ben McPherson. Brown and Barna are dual threats to catch and run the ball out of the backfield, while Lewis and McPherson are featured almost exclusively as receivers.
"Hellwig's very confident and poised in the pocket," Osburn said. "With Brown and Barna, they've got a great one-two punch, and their receivers are quick with good hands. We'll have our hands full; we need to try to minimize turnovers and mental mistakes."
Medina comes out throwing on some drives, while featuring a steady diet of running plays on others. In recent losses against Burgard, Lew-Port and Bennett, the Mustangs have fallen into a large early deficit and been forced to play catch-up throughout the latter part of the game. If Valley's squad can keep the game close early and hold its ground in the battle of field position, Hellwig will be much better-positioned to execute a diverse offense that keeps the defense guessing — like the Mustangs did in scoring a combined 132 points in the season's first three weeks.
As for Albion, the Purple Eagles have shown a focus on running the ball, led by star tailback Ed Wolfe. In last week's critical 14-6 win over Lew-Port, Albion controlled the clock and field position by featuring a steady diet of ground-and-pound football, led by Wolfe and strong blocking along the offensive line.
But the Purple Eagles can throw it as well, as quarterback John Warne has a few explosive options at his disposal, most notably Des Blackmon (who one assistant coach has referred to as 'Dez Bryant' in comparison to the star Dallas Cowboys receiver) and Trey Hart.
"The Albion team is well-coached, and they always come to play," Valley said. "They're very physical up front. Ed's a heck of a running back, he doesn't go down very easily, and with Trey Hart on the outside, they can put it up top. We need to be more physical than them, and do a better job of getting to the football."
Last year, Medina came away with the win in a game that felt like "whoever had the ball last was going to win," Osburn said. With each squad's defense much improved in 2013, neither coach expects the same type of contest as last year's high-scoring affair, which produced a combined 90 points in Medina's 56-34 victory at Veterans Park.
Then again, when two teams take the field for a rivalry game, there is no such thing as certainty. Add the playoff implications to the mix, and this year's edition of Medina-Albion will be tough to match.
"For Albion vs. Medina, you can go back 15 or 20 years and remember who won each game," Osburn said. "This time, it comes down to a playoff spot. For it to be basically a playoff game, it makes it even better for the kids, the families and the communities."
And nobody will be the least bit surprised if the game goes down to the wire.
"It will probably come down to a couple plays," Osburn said.