The Freddies’ defense, viewed by some as largely untested this season, has continued to improve week after week. Their strong play has often been overshadowed by an offense averaging 47.5 points a game. The defense, however, is allowing just 11.75 points a game.
“I think sometimes with the amount of points we’ve been scoring this year, the offense gets all of the attention,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal. “We’ve talked, going all the way back to the spring and summer, about our goal to play great defense. We know that offense is great and fans love it, but you are going to win the tough games with defense. In our league, you’ve got to be able to stop teams. The league has become more diverse the last few years, and you can’t just focus on stopping the run. You’ve got to have the total package defensively. That’s one thing we’ve really worked on, and it’s one thing we’ve taken a lot of pride in. I think, defensively, we are getting better. We want to make sure we don’t get complacent; we want to make sure in Week 9 that we are a better team than we were in Week 8.”
A main cog in that defense has been Hoeflich, who burst onto the scene as a sophomore last season. Hoeflich registered 164 tackles last year, and is on his way to matching or surpassing that total this year. Hoeflich has 125 tackles this year, including 54 solo tackles, and has 2.5 sacks and two interceptions.
“Last year as a sophomore, Austin had a great year defensively,” Beal said. “This year, he has continued to improve. He is definitely the leader of our defense. He is doing everything we expect from a middle linebacker. He is very smart; he understands defense. He is very physical; he is an impact hitter. Anytime we need a play, it seems like he is there to make it. He is doing a great job.”
“You can’t really compare (last year and this year). They are really different teams,” said Hoeflich. “We’ve come a long way. In Game 1, we weren’t real sound on defense, and we’ve gotten better and better. Our offense has also improved.”
Making those numbers even more impressive is the fact that he is playing both ways. Hoeflich has seen a lot of action on offense, including a 180-yard rushing week against Utica.
“Offensively, he is really starting to come on for us,” said Beal. “He is running the ball well. We are obviously very happy with the way he has been playing lately.
“It is tough to play both ways, and he is playing very physical positions,” added Beal. “That’s a testament to his toughness, and it is also a testament to his work ethic. He’s worked very hard in the off-season to improve his strength and make himself more durable. He works very hard in practice, and stays in good shape. That’s a credit to him. He has done all the things that he needs to do to put himself in a position where he can help us on both sides of the ball.”
Hoeflich is happy to have the opportunity to play both offense and defense. He has gained 501 yards on 74 carries this year (6.8 average) and has scored nine touchdowns. Though, if he had his choice, he would choose to play defense.
“It is tiring, and it takes a lot of work,” said Hoeflich. “I had to condition twice as hard. It is a lot of work. ... We have a lot of weapons on offense, so we spread the ball around and not just one person has to do everything. That makes it easier.
“It is nice to get the ball, but as long as we are scoring and keep winning, I don’t care.”
With his heart on defense, Hoeflich has performed at a high level week in and week out. He recorded 26 tackles against Johnstown in Week 6, and hasn’t slowed up yet. He nor Beal have any plans for him to.
“We talk about playing great team defense, and our defense is really designed for the middle linebacker to make a lot of plays,” said Beal. “When he is making a lot of tackles, that means the rest of the defense is going its job. We’ve gotten really good play out of our front guys, our down guys. Our defensive ends are playing really well. That makes (Austin’s) job easier, and keeps the blocks off of him. He, of course, capitalizes on that.”
“I just read my keys and get to the ball, then I try to make plays,” Hoeflich said. “It is easier because we are more experienced. Our line knows what is going on and make a lot of big plays, which makes it easier for our secondary and linebackers.”
With two games left in the regular season and the postseason lurking around the corner, the Freddies are showing they can win the tough games as well the not-so-tough. Utica proved to be one of the tougher games on the schedule, and the outcome was the same as the previous seven. That, for Beal, is all that matters.
“Defensively, we played really well against Utica,” Beal said. “We were really pleased with our defensive effort. I hope we haven’t played our best game yet; I hope we continue to get better.”
“I think we made a statement; it was nice to see what we are really made of,” said Hoeflich. “We came out and showed that we are for real. We played really well as a team. ... We’ve got to stay focused and work hard no matter who we are playing. We can’t overlook anybody because everyone is going to come after us.”