FREDERICKTOWN — The Fredericktown Freddies finally won a “big” game.
In a battle that could go a long way in determining the Mid-Buckeye Conference champion, the Freddies beat fellow MBC front-runner Utica, 27-12, Friday night.
“This is a big win,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal. “The last few years, we’ve done some good things, but there has always been a team in the league that has gotten us, whether it was Utica or Johnstown. We had a nice win against Johnstown a few years ago, but lost to them last year. This, obviously, was a big win for us. We were able to keep moving forward.
“The big challenge now is to finish. We’ve got two games left in the league, and we want to finish the season strong and try to reach the goals we set at the beginning of the season.”
Fredericktown (8-0, 5-0 MBC) jumped ahead early, intercepting a Jason Hoar pass on the first play from scrimmage. Nathan Cubbage came up with the grab, and five plays later, Austin Hoeflich broke around the end for a 21-yard touchdown run with 9:56 to play in the first quarter. Branden Smith’s kick made it a 7-0 game.
After trading possessions, Utica (5-3, 4-1 MBC) began to gain some momentum late in the quarter. The Redskins put together a 12-play, 5:47 drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Justin Newsome. The kick failed, leaving Fredericktown ahead after one.
Utica had another drive end with an interception by Tyler Hathaway to start the second quarter, but the Freddies couldn’t capitalize after Smith missed a 30-yard field goal attempt. The Redskins, however, fumbled it away on the next play as Andrew Wildermuth recovered for the Freddies. It was for naught, though, as Fredericktown’s drive went three-and-out.
“We were very concerned,” Beal said. “When they had turned the ball over as many times as they had and we looked at the scoreboard, we weren’t capitalizing on the turnovers. That was a concern. We felt we were a little sloppy offensively in the first half.”
Utica went ahead with 2:35 to go before halftime as Hoar broke free for a 36-yard scoring run. A two-point conversion run failed after the ball was fumbled away, leaving Utica up, 12-7.
That lead was short-lived, however, as Fredericktown drove 64 yards in a span of a minute and a half. Quarterback Thomas Hinkle completed three straight passes to Tony Lybarger and another to C.J. Ruhl to move into shouting distance of the Redskins’ red zone. After a couple of runs, Hinkle found Ruhl open for a 13-yard completion. Ruhl looked to land in the end zone, but was ruled down at the 1-yard line. He then took it up the middle on the next play with 1:06 to go. Smith’s kick made it a 14-12 game at the half.
“We were lucky to be in the game with the turnovers,” said Utica coach Randy Felumlee. “I guess the question is, why were we so turnover prone? I think our kids were a little tight. We’ve been loose the last few weeks, but tonight, we seemed tight. ... We didn’t play with the same mindset as we did the last couple of weeks. Obviously, (Fredericktown) is a good team. They played well enough to win.”
The second half was all Fredericktown as the Freddies turned to Hoeflich time and time again. Fredericktown’s first score of the second half was set up by two passes from Hinkle to Ruhl of 10 yards each and two Hoeflich runs totaling 16 yards. Hinkle then hit Ruhl with a 29-yard scoring pass. Smith’s kick solidified a nine-point advantage.
The Fredericktown defense continued to keep Utica in check in the second half, holding the Redskins scoreless. In all, the Freddies intercepted four Hoar passes and recovered three Utica fumbles.
“Utica is a very good football team, very explosive offensively as they showed in the first half,” said Beal. “We knew the real key was going to be the defense in this game. The way our defense played in the second half, I’m really proud of them. To be able to contain Utica’s offense was big. We had a little better consistency on offense in the second half, too.
“One of the big things for us in the first half was being able to get the score right before the half. We took a little bit of the momentum going into halftime.”
Utica got a steady diet of Hinkle and Hoeflich, who rushed for 180 yards on 23 carries, down the stretch. Hoeflich capped the scoring with 2:34 to go in the third quarter. He took the ball in from 8 yards out, completing an eight-play drive on which he carried the ball five times. The kick was blocked, leading to the final 27-12 score.
Hoeflich intercepted a Hoar pass with 2:15 to go in the third quarter, and two fourth-quarter sacks by Nick Stacey and Tony Lybarger capped the defensive effort. Utica gained 264 yards in the game, but only 58 yards in the second half.
“Our defense really stepped up and that was the big key,” said Beal. “Our kids just played harder in the second half. There weren’t many adjustments. We felt good about what we were doing. What we were doing was working. We only gave up two big plays in the first half. We just felt we had to hang in there.”
Hoeflich’s performance was a big one for the Freddies, who also saw big games from Ruhl and Hinkle. Ruhl finished with six catches for 89 yards, while Hinkle was 13-of-25 passing for 144 yards and added another 43 yards on the ground.
“(Hoeflich’s) a guy that is going to make plays,” said Beal. “I told the kids before the game, ‘Great players rise to the occasion,’ and that’s what he did. That’s the kind of play you need in big situations.”
Hoar was Utica’s only real offensive threat. He rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries and passed for another 130 yards. Fredericktown did a good job of taking away big-play receiver Scott Cline, limiting him to just one catch for 47 yards.
With the win, Fredericktown controls its own destiny. It plays two final leagues games on the road (at Centerburg, Friday, and at Loudonville, Oct. 30). Utica needs a little help, both for the league title race and the playoffs. The Redskins play Danville next week.