MOUNT VERNON — High hopes run deep in each of the area’s communities as the 2009 high school football season is about to get under way. And with it, the Area Game of the Week, presented by Killbuck Savings Bank.
What better way to get it started than with one of the area’s biggest rivalries between Highland and Fredericktown? Both teams are coming off successful seasons a year ago, and both have high hopes this season.
“Things have been going well for us,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal, whose team finished 8-2 in 2008. “We went through two-a-days and worked hard. This year was a little longer stretch of two-a-days, and I thought our kids handled that really well. One thing that we saw was nice improvement from our two earlier scrimmages to our last scrimmage. That was nice. The challenge for us now is to continue to improve.
“We’ve got a great opponent coming into our place. We’ve been telling the kids how we’ve been pleased with how they’ve been working, but now it is time to raise that intensity level even higher as we get into the regular season. ... At this point, it’s time to get into that game mode, and really start putting four quarters together on a Friday night.”
Highland, which finished 6-5 and made the Division IV playoffs, coach Chad Carpenter said, “Things have gone fairly well. We are trying to get better and move forward each day. We’ve come a long way in camp. There are a lot of uncertainties about how far we can go, where we are going to fit in and how we are going to do. There are a lot of questions still to be asked.”
In the 2008 matchup, Fredericktown edged Highland by a point, 7-6, as defense ruled the field. The Freddies, now a year older, look to win this year’s matchup on their home field.
“Our kids are definitely looking forward to this first game,” said Beal. “We have been through a lot; it is to the point now that they are ready to play. After a while, practice only goes so far. Our kids are ready to play and I’m sure the kids over at Highland are the same way.
“The Highland-Fredericktown game has become a great rivalry. It is a battle every year. That’s exactly what we are expecting this year. ... It is always great to play at home, especially in the first game. There will be a great crowd there. We tell our kids that playing at home is something special, and they should take pride in defending their home field. It is always nice to open at home, but I’m not sure it will have much effect on the outcome.”
The rivalry nature of the game is one thing that adds to an already charged atmosphere.
“This is a big game every year; it is a backyard brawl,” Carpenter said. “A lot of our kids know one another, and see them throughout the year. We are moving forward into the first game and everyone is real excited. We just want to come out and do well.”
Since it is the season opener, neither team has had a lot of time to prepare for the other. They have been able to get a glimpse of what they can expect, however. From what Beal saw of Highland, the Scots strongly resemble the teams of years past.
“We’ve traded film and we’ve seen one of their scrimmages; they’ve seen one of ours,” Beal said. “They look like a typical Highland football team. They’ve got an outstanding running game; their offensive line is very good and they come off the ball hard; and Highland always plays great team defense. They run to the ball well and are fundamentally sound. It is your typical Highland team. ... They are going to play you hard from the first snap to the last.”
Carpenter also saw many familiar traits in his tape of Fredericktown. It is preparing his team to stop them that has been the challenge.
“It looks like to me that they are extremely physical and have great skill kids,” said Carpenter. “They do a great of spreading the ball around in their spread offense, and then they will go back down under center and try to pound the ball. Trying to prepare for everything that they do is causing us a lot of issues. They do a lot of things extremely well. For the first game of the season, they force you to work hard and try to get everything tuned up. You’ve got to be ready to go.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that are stepping up,” Carpenter added. “They haven’t seen a live game situation yet, so we can’t tell how they are going to react or perform. We lost a lot of talent off last year’s team, and it is tough to replace that. We’ve just had to get the younger guys ready to go and get them to play the best that they can.”
Both teams know the importance of getting off on the right foot. A win may not go a long way now, but a loss could hinder any playoff hopes either team has. To mark the game in the win column, there are some simple things each team will need to do.
“There are a couple things (that will help decide the outcome). For us, we’ve got to play great defense,” said Beal. “Highland is a team that is a great running football team and they are going to want to control the tempo of the game. We cannot allow them to drive the ball at us and control the line of scrimmage. ... Then, when we get opportunities on offense, we’ve got to make them count. We’ve got to play mistake-free, and we’ve really got to execute our offense.
“Another thing with the first game that you are always nervous about is special teams because you really don’t do any live special teams in your scrimmages. It is a little bit of a question mark, but we’ve really worked hard on it during two-a-days. You are a little bit apprehensive just because it is the first time that your kickoff and punt return team has got a live look.”
For Carpenter, it is a little more simple.
“It is an exciting environment over there, and we can’t get caught up in all of that stuff,” Carpenter said. “We just need to go out there, focus on the game and play our style of game. If the kids focus on the sport that they’ve been, basically, all year, we’ll be OK. This is really an exciting time of year for all of us.”
Editor’s note: The kickoff time for Friday’s game is 7 p.m. It was incorrectly printed in the Pigskin Preview, which inserted in Wednesday’s edition of the News.