CHEEKTOWAGA - Defense wins championships.
And thanks to Fredonia's defensive performance Saturday against JFK in the Section 6 Class C semifinals, the Hillbillies will have a chance to play for a sectional title next week at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Hillbillies (7-2) allowed just three first downs to blank the Bears (7-2), 21-0, on a rainy, muddy day.
Nick Nocek led the defensive charge with 10 tackles, a blocked punt, a sack and a fumble recovery.
"Nocek did a great job, and Saden did, too," Ball said. "Our two ends played a lot of football for us this year. We haven't let a lot of teams get to the edge. Those guys start it. It's team defense. Both Chris and Nocek are three-year starters."
Along with the senior leadership of Nocek and Saden, Ball knew the play of his sophomores would be a huge factor in the outcome.
Three sophomores came through for the Hillbillies as Matt McCarthy and Tyler DiRusso each had an interception - the second in as many games for DiRusso - and John Piper made a key catch to set up Fredonia's second score.
"They have come a long way this season," Ball said of his sophomore trio. "At the beginning of the year, we were very young and that was our problem against Wilson. The sophomores have grown up a lot this year. They are our future. They made plays today and they made plays last week. They need to contribute and they did their job. Our offense did enough to win and our defense played lights out."
The Hillbillies struck first with 9:12 left in the second quarter as Jude Gardner took a screen pass 43 yards to the end zone and Trent Thompson kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
The Hillbillies struck again with less than two minutes remaining in the half as McCarthy's interception and a half-back option pass from Weston Ley to Piper set up a 1st-and-goal from JFK's 8-yard line. There, Zach Buckley bulldozed his way into the end zone for a 14-0 advantage.
Late in the third quarter, the Bears got their first break of the game as they were able to block and recover a punt at Fredonia's 27-yard line. A 15-yard penalty on Fredonia after the play gave the home team the ball at Fredonia's 12-yard line.
Once again, the Fredonia defense shined as JFK was unable to punch it in.
"They were phenomenal," Ball said of his defense. "They have been good all season for us. When teams did score, it was our offense putting our defense in trouble. We let our defense win the game for us. We are fast, we hit and we are quick to the ball. Our pass defense was good. They were there with the receivers step for step. We played good team defense all year and we did it again today."
The Hillbillies took over on their own 6-yard line, but couldn't move the ball. It looked as if JFK would once again get good field position. However, Buckley had the play of the game as his punt traveled 65 yards and the Hillbillies were able to recover a fumble on the play at JFK's 35-yard line.
"That was big," Ball said of the punt and recovery. "At that point, we thought Zach could give us more distance and he boomed one. It just flipped the field for us and to get the fumble recovery as well ... That was the play of the game."
On the ensuing drive, Ley ran off tackle for 21 yards and hit paydirt to put the nail in the coffin.
Cody Smith led the Fredonia defense with 14 tackles and a sack. DiRusso also had a fumble recovery in the win.
With the win, Fredonia will play at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the second time in three years. The Hillbilllies will take on the Cleveland Hill Golden Eagles (7-2), which beat Wilson (6-3), 42-7, in their Class C semifinal on Friday.
"It's exciting," Ball said. "We were there two years ago with four of these kids. They know what it's like and they will let the others know. It's nice to have turnover where kids have seen it and can pass it on to next year's team. Last year was a disappointing season. We thought we had the team to get there. We worked week to week and knew we needed things to go our way, but to go back there and play on the big stage is huge for all of our kids."