FREDERICKTOWN — All over MBC-land on Friday, one game promises to burn up the cell phone minutes like no other as every score gets reported and texted from fan-to-fan all evening long.
That’s what will happen, when what are clearly, the two toughest teams in the Mid-Buckeye Conference square off. For those lucky enough to be in Fredericktown, they will get to see the undefeated Freddies host the Utica Redskins (5-2, 4-0 MBC). The winner will become the MBC front runner with two games to go in the regular season.
The Freddies have been merciless to the opposition all season long. Their latest victims were the East Knox Bulldogs last Friday, whom they battered 47-0. Unbelievably, with that scoring total, their points per game average dropped.
The Utica players are keeping their cool, but they know how big their challenge is.
“I said, before the season started, that Fredericktown would be the team to beat in the league and nothing has happened that has made my prediction seem wrong,” said Utica coach Randy Felumlee. “They’ve got the whole package, I mean, they’ve got quality athletes, big strong linemen, a big, strong, experienced quarterback and it seems that they’ve got more running backs than most teams deserve at times. They have an impressive array of kids and they seem to be playing at a very high level.”
This week will be the Freddies’ biggest test as well as a good barometer of how they might do in the postseason.
Utica, led by quarterback Jason Hoar, has manhandled nearly every conference opponent. The only MBC team that has come close to defeating the Redskins were the surprising Loudonville Redbirds. The Redskins managed to edge Loudonville, 18-15, two Fridays ago.
Hoar has rushed for 834 yards himself, while the other Redskins’ backs have combined for an additional 450-plus yards. It goes without saying that the Freddies need to find a way to stop Hoar, who averages 6.5 yards per carry, at the line of scrimmage.
The Fredericktown defense will need to be careful not to key on the run too much because Hoar (81-of-149, five interceptions) is as effective through the air as he is on the ground and — with over 1400 yards passing — just as dangerous. He has thrown for 14 TDs and run for 14, as well, in 2009.
With Hoar running out of the shotgun, Scott Cline is averaging over 22 yards per catch for the Redskins, including 11 TDs. Teammates Justin Newsome and Jake Torrens are each totaling over 200 yards in catches this season. The Freddies’ defense can’t let any Redskins receivers get behind them. A big play, in a game that is expected to be close, could mean all the difference.
“Offensively, (Utica is) a very explosive team,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal. “(Hoar) is just an exceptional athlete and they also have some very talented and skilled players to go with him. Certainly, (Hoar) is a key component of their offense but we can’t focus in solely on him. Of course, they’ve got plenty of other talented players. The thing we worked on this week is to play great team defense. We have to be conscious of the quarterback but we have to play as a team. The key is that everyone on the defense has to do his job. If everyone on the defense does their job on every play, well have the opportunity to be successful. We also need great pursuit and great tackling.”
While the Redskins’ team numbers stack up very well against the Freddies, they lack the Freddies’ incredible depth. Fredericktown has a variety of people who can shoulder the load — especially at the so-called skill positions. With C.J. Ruhl back to full strength for the Freddies, that advantage only grows.
“(Fredericktown) is able to spread the ball around,” said Felumlee. “Maybe that keeps kids fresh. Maybe it helps keep kids from injuries. You don’t have the luxury of spying on any one particular kid. A lot of teams try to do one thing and do it well Fredericktown does a lot of things and they do them well, so they are always putting pressure on you with their various looks and their different athletes. They’ve also got the experience of knowing what they are doing. It makes it really tough.”
The Redskins’ defense has a huge assignment. Where does one start with all the many weapons that the Freddies possess? Without Ruhl, freshman Matt Smith ran for four touchdowns and was simply spectacular last week, breaking two big yardage runs. With 353 yards for the season, he currently leads the Freddies on the ground. Teammates Austin Hoeflich and Dillon Esteph added to the scoring last week with TD runs of their own.
“(Utica’s) defense has been getting better every week,” said Beal. “Certainly, it’s a huge challenge for us. We’re just trying to approach this game like we have approached every game throughout this season. We are really trying to stay focused on playing one play at a time and one game at a time. That’s really been our motto since the summer.”
“The one thing that we will benefit from is that we run a similar offense (to Fredericktown),” said Felumlee, “We don’t get under center as much as Fredericktown does, but the plays and the formations they run are similar to our so it’s easier (for our defense in practice) to work on terminology-wise and getting your scout team to do certain things because they are a lot like us, so that has been a help to our defense in practice. There isn’t as much teaching. It’s just that we have to understand what possible tendencies there might be.”
Freddies’ quarterback Thomas Hinkle (71-of-121, 16 TDs, 8 interceptions) only had one TD pass last Friday, hitting teammate Tony Lybarger. With all of the talent in the backfield, however, the Freddies are hard-pressed to share the ball with their stampede of running backs and still give their excellent throwing game an opportunity to shine. Add Hinkle’s 344 rushing yards and the Freddies have over 1500 yards on the ground this season to go with over 1300 passing.
All the numbers do, however, is show that these two teams are the best that the MBC has to offer. As for who wins on Friday, that will be a matter of teamwork, desire and determination.
“Our goal is to try to play our best four quarters this week and, hopefully, we can do that,” said Beal. “We were a little banged up these past few weeks, but we are pretty close to being back to full strength.”
“Last week was a big win for us (against Johnstown),” said Felumlee. That’s the first time we’ve beaten Johnstown in a long time. We played better than I thought we would based on the conditions. Our kids seemed to be handling the situation quite well and I hope that they continue to do that. We don’t ever seem to be getting too high or too low and don’t seem to be bothered when things are going poorly. I think, so far this week, they don’t seem to be too overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game. They all understand what’s at stake.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Fredericktown.