MOUNT VERNON — Two high school football teams will represent the area in the postseason when play begins this weekend. The undefeated Fredericktown Freddies and the 8-2 Highland Scots both qualified for the Division V and IV playoffs, respectively, when the final computer rankings were announced on Sunday.
The Freddies (10-0), who won the Mid-Buckeye Conference title with a win over Loudonville on Friday night, were the No. 1 seed in Region 19, a distinguished honor that brings home-field advantage.
“It is great for the program,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal. “Going into last week, we really wanted to get the home-field advantage in the playoffs. To be able to play a playoff game at home is something we’ve been working for all year long. Our top priority going into the season was to win the conference, but we knew if we won the conference, that would probably bring with it the home playoff game. We really never dreamed we would be the top seed, but it is certainly a great position to be in.”
Fredericktown, making its fifth state tournament appearance, will face the Caldwell Redskins of the Pioneer Valley Conference. The Redskins finished the season 8-2, and runner up to Monroe Central (9-1), the No. 4 seed in Region 19, in the league. Caldwell averaged 19.2 points a game during the regular season while allowing 12.8 points a contest.
“They’ve got a great football tradition; they’ve got a coach (Mike Devol) that’s been there a long time,” said Beal. “They made the playoffs last year in Division VI. I watched them on film, and they are a lot like the teams we played in the MBC. They play physical defense and run the football well. They’ve got two pretty good running backs, and one really good receiver, who they use at tight end. They move him around quite a bit. Their quarterback does a nice job of throwing the football. It is a team very similar to teams we see in the MBC. I’m sure they are excited to be in the playoffs, and I’m sure we’ll get their best game.
“We were talking as a staff today, and we all kind of agreed. They’ve got those backs that are solid and they remind us of Highland. Highland always has good running backs that are athletic. They do a lot of different things. We’ve got a number of different films on them and each film they do something different. They are very balanced.”
Resembling Highland should be a compliment for Caldwell. After all the Scots are back in the playoffs for the fifth time, including the fourth straight. Highland finished as runner-up in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference Red Division this season, losing only to undefeated North Union. The Scots season started with a 54-20 loss to Fredericktown, which served as an early wake-up call.
“We’ve definitely got a lot better since the beginning of the season,” said Highland coach Chad Carpenter. “I think, more or less, it was that the kids really had to believe in themselves and gain confidence. When we got shell-shocked in Week 1, I didn’t know how we were going to respond. We got together the Saturday following and decided we weren’t going to watch the film and from that point on, it was a nine-game season. We regrouped and started over. We picked up from there, forgot about it and moved on. We had a short memory about it.”
Getting back into the playoffs is a big honor for Carpenter’s team, especially considering how young the team is. There are only 12 seniors on the squad, meaning a lot of underclassmen are playing big roles.
“It is exciting, really,” Carpenter said. “This was one of our goals going into the year. We’re just taking it day-by-day and week-by-week. This is good for the program and for the community. We’re happy to be able to do it again.”’
Highland, which is the No. 7 seed in Region 15, won’t have the luxury of playing again on their home field. The Scots will travel to Ironton for a first-round playoff game on Saturday night. The Tigers (8-2, No. 2 seed) are no stranger to the playoffs. They are making their 27th appearance, including eighth this decade, and have won a state title twice.
During the regular season, Ironton finished as runner-up in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, losing only to undefeated champion Logan, 21-7. The Tigers’ other loss came to Ashland (Ky.) Blazer, 28-7, which finished the season with a 9-1 mark. Ironton averaged 33.4 points a game offensively, while allowing 13.7 defensively.
“I’ve watched film all day Saturday and all day (Sunday), and they are a good football team,” said Carpenter. “They have a long tradition and good history behind them. They’ve got a really good team this year. They are big, physical kids, which we don’t see a lot of. They want to try to pound it. They are really a spitting image of us. Our kids are smaller and quicker, but our philosophies are about the same really. They try to control the ball and hold onto it as long as possible, and then try to finish with scores. On defense, they run to the ball. I would say our philosophies are very similar, but our kids are different.
“I would say they resemble a bigger Buckeye Valley if I had to guess.”
Carpenter isn’t going to try and hide anything from his team. He wants them to be fully aware of what challenges Ironton presents.
“We’re not going to try and sugarcoat anything for our kids,” Carpenter said. “We’re going to have to play to our strengths and attack their weaknesses. We’re going to be honest with our kids and tell them what we need to do to overcome those. We’re showing them the film, and they will see how big they are and how strong they are. We’re not doing anything different.”
For Beal, Friday’s contest is hopefully just the start of something bigger. His team has come a long way since Game 1, battling opponents and injuries along the way. The fact that the Freddies have come through it, he believes, only makes them stronger.
“Right now, we are playing very well,” said Beal. “At the mid-point of the season, we were kind of beat up physically, and it seems like lately, we’ve been getting better and better health-wise. That’s a good thing. I think the Loudonville game was good preparation for the playoffs because Loudonville was playing playoff-caliber football. That was obviously a dogfight until the bitter end, so it got us into the type of mindset we needed to be in. We’ve got to be prepared to play every play and battle until the end because in the playoffs, there is no tomorrow. You’ve got to be able to put four great quarters together from here on out.”