A look back at the Lyndonville Tigers gridiron decade of success

By Mike Wertman, Sports Writer Posted 14 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Photo by Cheryl Wertman – Jon Ostrander, standing, and Joey Suhr were two decade long mainstays of the Lyndonville Tigers defensive unit.

Prior to what has proved to be their abbreviated final season due to a shortage of players, the Lyndonville Tigers enjoyed a decade long run of success on the semi pro football gridiron.

Claiming one league and two division titles along the way, the Tigers compiled a 69-29-1 regular season league record and an 81-41-1 overall mark during that 10 year stretch from 2004-2013.

Here is a flashback look at some of the Tigers highlights.

Debuting in 2004 with over half of the roster composed of Lyndonville and Medina players, the Tigers dropped a narrow 14-8 decision at the Buffalo Gladiators in their first ever game. Kelly Rhim scored the team’s first ever touchdown and Joey Suhr added the two-point conversion.

The Tigers notched their first ever victory in their home debut at Medina’s Vets Park downing the Monroe County Sting 21-13 on touchdowns by Joey Suhr, Lionel Rhim and Adam Eckerd.

Lionel Rhim threw a total of 15 touchdown passes on the season and Cory Frasier caught 12 to spearhead the offense for the Tigers which finished with a 5-4 regular season and 6-6 overall record.

In addition to Eckerd, Joey Suhr and owner Harold Suhr some of the Lyndonville players on the roster included Gary Barber, Terry Chaffee, Steven Grabowski, Jon Ostrander, Eric Bentley, Cliff Brown, Mat Whiting and Lucas Silversmith.

Among the Medina players on the roster were Lionel Rhim, Frasier, Eric Valley, Greg Hodgins, Eric Vaughn, Dale Cleaveland, Joe Sands, Joel Fidanza and Mike Eaton.

Shifting their home games to Middleport in 2005, the Tigers went through a bit of a “sophomore slump” going just 3-7 in the league and 3-8 overall.

The Tigers continued to play their home games at Middleport until 2011 when they moved to the Pembroke Town Park.

Rebounding strongly in 2006, the Tigers went 8-2 (10-3 overall) claiming what proved to be a controversial New York Amateur Football League playoff championship.

The Tigers apparently captured the league title with a 14-6 victory over the Monroe County Sting as Brandon Munson ran for one touchdown and free wheeling quarterback Ricky McVay passed to Jon Oakes for another.

However, because of a player eligibility controversy between the Sting and Buffalo Gladiators, the Tigers were directed by the league to play the Gladiators for the title. When the two teams finally met, in what was also called the opening round of the Harvest Bowl, the Gladiators took a 28-6 victory but Lyndonville officials refused to recognize the contest as a title game.

McVay scored a total of 11 touchdowns and threw for 10 more, six to Oakes, to lead the Tigers offense that season in which the team’s only three losses were to the rival Gladiators.

The Tigers stayed above the .500 mark in both 2007 (6-4, 8-5) and 2008 (8-2, 10-3) before enjoying another title campaign in 2009.

The Tigers captured the Northeast Football Alliance regular season championship in 2009 with a 9-1 record including key wins over the Gladiators (35-6 and 16-13) and Troy Fighting Irish (9-7).

The Tigers then scored playoff wins over the Watertown Revolution (38-6) and Syracuse Shock (9-0) before dropping a 22-9 decision to the Monroe County Sting in the title contest.

An interception and lateral play for a touchdown by the duo of Joey Suhr and Kevin Dukes highlighted the semifinal win over the Shock which also included a 42 yard field goal by Whiting.

Mike Bond scored 11 touchdowns, McVay nine and Ian Cromwell six for the Tigers and Donnell Holloway threw eight touchdown passes that season as the Tigers went 11-3 overall.

Photo by Cheryl Wertman – Clay Johnson was a steady running back for the Tigers during the decade.

The Tigers went on to post second place division finishes in 2010 (7-3, 8-4), 2011 (7-3, 8-4) and 2012 (8-1-1, 8-2-1) before capturing a division playoff title in 2013.

One of the Tigers most unusual finishes occurred during that stretch. In the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, the Tigers dropped a wild 36-29 decision to the Gladiators at Pembroke when officials halted play with five minutes remaining due to darkness.

During that three year stretch, McVay led the Tigers in scoring in 2010 with 14 touchdowns, Clay Johnson in 2011 with 11 TDs and Rob Williams in 2012 with 8 TDs.

Rebounding from an 0-2 start, the Tigers rattled off eight straight regular season wins in 2013 to build momentum heading into the playoffs. The Tigers closest call during that long wining streak was a narrow 12-7 victory over the Gladiators on a pair of touchdown receptions by Gary LeFrois.

The Tigers then captured the West Division playoff title by blanking the Nickel City Kings 14-0 on touchdowns by Williams and LeFrois.

However, the Tigers bid for a league playoff ended in a narrow 29-22 title round loss to the Troy Fighting Irish. Williams scored two touchdowns and Derrick Adams one in that contest as the Tigers finished at 9-3 overall.

The Tigers fortunes though turned after that strong playoff run. A number of off season retirements by key veteran members of the squad including Joey Suhr , Jon Ostrander and Joel Fidanza on defense and Tim Conley and Dale Cleaveland on the offensive line, along with the loss to several other players to the Lockport Rampage, left the team’s ranks very thin heading into the 2014 campaign.

With only 15-20 players showing up for games, the Tigers went 1-4 this season before choosing to forfeit to the Rampage this past weekend as owner Harold Suhr announced the franchise was folding. In making the decison to fold the franchise, Suhr noted that the Rampage had promised not to recruit Tiger players as a condition to being accepted into the league this year, a promise he says the Rampage did not keep.

Ironically, the Tigers had switched their team name to the Genesee Orleans (GO) Tigers this season in an effort to better reflect the area their players came from.

The Tigers last victory came in the second game of the season as Harold Suhr came out of retirement to quarterback the team to a 16-12 win at the Jamestown Chiefs. He threw one touchdown pass and also had a hand in both two-point conversion plays in a win which evened the Tigers record at 1-1.

Losses the next three weeks, including home set backs to the WNY Dragons (24-0) and the Chiefs (40-12) in which only some 16 players showed up doomed the team’s future.

The Tigers were the first locally organized semi-pro football team since the Medina MACs which played from 1946 to 1961.