Tonight top-seeded Randolph (8-0) and second-seeded Maple Grove/Chautaqua Lake (6-1) will put their respective football seasons on the line in the Section 6 Class D semifinals.
The undefeated Cardinals will play host to fourth-seeded Ellicottville-West Valley (4-3) at Raymond Van Wie field at 7:30 p.m. while the Thunder Dragons will take on third-seeded Portville (4-3) for the second time this season. The site and time of that game will be announced this morning.
Maple Grove/Chautaqua Lake was able to come away with a defensive 13-0 shutout against the Panthers during their first meeting of the year in early September while the consistantly-dominant Cardinals laid a 50-0 beatdown on the Eagles in their second game of the season.
When asked about the semifinal matchups, Curt Fischer of MG/CL and Brent Brown of Randolph shared a similar focus on their games. Both experienced coaches understand that the playoffs are a whole different game than the regular season. Beating a team earlier in the year does not mean that a win will come easy when the everything is on the line.
"We have to remember that everyone improves during the course of the season," said Brown. "That's true every year and we have to expect it from Portville on Friday."
Unfortunatly for Ellicottville-West Valley, improvement may not be enough to get past a Cardinals team that is averaging 44 points per game. Randolph is also fielding a stingy defense that has given up only 66 points all season to opposing offenses.
In their first meeting with the Eagles, Randolph's starters scored every time they touched the ball and racked up 331 yards in rushing, lead by senior Chris Doubek.
"Chris has had a tremendous year," praised Brown. "They'll have to deal with him if they want to stop our offense."
One key to the Cardinals's success that has gone unnoticed is the health of their roster. Randolph has been lead by consistant play from every position this year, thanks to a lack of injuries.
"Health has been huge for us," said Brown, "especially for a school of our size where you don't have plenty of extra guys to fill in."
Fischer has not had the luxury of an unchanged roster this season. MG/CL has lost three starting players in the last three weeks.
"We had an unfortunate situation where a few kids just didn't want to be part of the team," aknowledged Fischer, "but I think the change has helped the attitude in our locker room.
"I would rather have a guy out on the field with less talent who wants to be there than someone who's head is in the wrong place."
Fischer went on to say that his focus is on creating a football program that is good from the ground up, including working with kids at the jayvee and midget levels.
Tonight, offensive line play will be a key for the Thunder Dragons if they hope to come away with a win.
"We have worked on changing a few things in practice, specifically trying to play more power football up-front and not work laterally as much,"explained Fischer.
With the way tonight's games are shaping up, there is a good chance that MG/CL could end up facing Randolph for the Class D title at Ralph Wilson Stadium next week.
In their first and only meeting of the year, the Cards were able to roll past the Thunder Dragons by a convincing score of 35-7.
But for now, both teams need to make it past tonight before they can start thinking about a title game.