LOUDONVILLE — The surprising Loudonville Redbirds have had this game circled on the calendar since the Mid-Buckeye Conference schedule came off the press.
When the undefeated Fredericktown Freddies (9-0, 6-0 MBC) invade Redbird Stadium on Friday night, it will be a one-game season for both teams.
A Freddies’ win will cap a perfect regular season and give them a good seeding in the post season.
For the Redbirds (6-3, 5-1 MBC), a win would give them a piece of the MBC title and could be the realization of their slim playoff chances — something they haven’t been close to for a few years in Redbird country. All they have to do is play airtight, gutty, mistake-free football for four quarters.
“We’re a better team than we were at the beginning of the season,” said Loudonville coach Don Wilson, whose Redbirds have only lost one conference game since starting the season 1-2. “Fredericktown’s just got so many weapons and we’ve just got to do what we can to stay close and keep it close until the fourth quarter and beat them in the fourth quarter. That’s kind of our game plan.”
“Loudonville is a very big challenge for us,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal. “They are a very solid football team and very much improved from last year, so you’ve got to give that program a lot of credit. They’re very physical and play a very physical style of football on both sides of the ball. They’ve got really quality linemen.”
The Loudonville defense will need to contain the many cannons that the Freddies, who are at full strength, will deploy on offense. Fredericktown quarterback Thomas Hinkle will be ready along with C.J. Ruhl, Tyler Hathaway and Tony Lybarger.
“You really can’t stop them,” said Wilson. “We’re going to try to slow them down as best as we can. We’ll try to not give up big plays and in any situation like that, you try to make them get as many snaps as they can. We just can’t give up the home runs to these guys because they have such big play ability. You sure don’t want to get into a shooting match with them. Maybe we can put them into third and long, guess right and angle into a couple of plays. Hopefully, we can slow them down that way.”
“(Loudonville) is really aggressive on the defensive side of the ball,” said Beal. “Offensively, we are going to have to make sure that we play our best four quarters because they’re definitely a very good football team. For us, going into any game balance is important. We don’t want to get one-dimensional.”
The Redbirds’ offense will need to control the football, chew up the clock and score. They’ll have to do it against an aggressive Fredericktown defense.that likes to take the football from their opponents and held Centerburg to minus five yards in the second half last week.
“(Fredericktown is) leading the league in interceptions,” said Wilson. “Their secondary is awesome. We just don’t see a weakness in them so, for us, we’re just going to have to execute well and keep it close. What happens is a lot of teams try to come back on them and that is where they get a lot of their picks. They’re just solid.”
“Their running backs — Jordan Lance and Brent Allerding — are both kids, who really run the football hard,” said Beal. ”They, also, do a good job with play action pass. We’re really going to have to play well defensively.”
Through the air, Loudonville’s quarterback, Jake Krupp, has four TD tosses in the last two games.
“(Fredericktown is) a football team that forces you to throw to beat them,” said Wilson. “That’s something we are going to have to do — they know that and we know that. They just don’t allow you to run the football with any kind of consistancy.”
MBC opponents have scored 46 points against the Freddies in 2009 while the Redbirds have given up 32.
It’s going to take a great team defensive effort,” said Beal. “They’re probably wanting to control the tempo of the game with their outstanding running game. We’ll have to, obviously, tackle very well. The key is, for us, to play real good defense on first and second down. We don’t want to get them into short yardage situations.
Both teams have played lopsided games against common opponents this year. In their one close MBC contest, the Redbirds nearly beat Utica, losing 18-15 in early October. That same Utica team was leading Fredericktown at halftime two weeks ago, before being undone by turnovers.
This game may turn on what happens when the defense and offense are not on the field. Special teams play will be crucial for both sides.
“Field position is going to be critical and we don’t want to give them an offensive short field,” said Beal. “(Loudonville) seems to be real solid on special teams. They’ve got a good kicker. They alsoi have a good returner, so we really have to be sound on special teams. In close games, a lot of times the kicking game will change the momentum of the game and make the difference, so we’ve got to work hard and use special teams to our advantage.”
“We’ve watched (Fredericktown) return some kicks,” said Wilson. “We’ve been working hard.on our special teams. If you’re playing well on special teams, it helps you keep a game like this close, but you’ve got to make them punt — that’s the first trick.”
Loudonville’s enthusiastic football fans, who have supported the program through all the lean years, have been waiting for a winning team to rally around. Now, they have finally got their wish. The atmosphere in Redbird country is like that of a tournament. Redbird Stadium is guaranteed to be a lively place on Friday night.
“I’ve only been here two years,” said Wilson. “I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never seen better senior leadership than I have out of these young men this year and I’ve been doing this for twenty-some years. It just took a couple of players and then, everyone jumped on board. They decided that, ‘This is enough. We are not going to be the bottom of the barrel anymore.’ The fans are a great group of people that care about their program. These are the same people at the high school games, the middle school games and the pee wee games. We’ve got people, who just love to watch the Redbirds play and this year has been a great year at all levels. People are excited. We’re excited about being in this situation in week 10. We’re playing for something on week 10.”
“This is the week where our defense has to step up and rise to the challenge,” said Beal. “If you want to win the tough, hard-fought games, you have to play great defense. I think our kids understand that and, I think, they are ready to rise to the challenge. It should be a great football game.”