FREDERICKTOWN — If last week’s Division V playoff victory over the Caldwell Redskins is any indication, the Fredericktown Freddies could be around for a few more weeks.
Fredericktown (11-0) dominated the Redskins with ease, which is a good sign. They’ll need the energy they saved against Caldwell as they take on the Wheelersburg Pirates in the regional semifinal on Friday night. No. 5 seed Wheelersburg (9-2) is coming off a wild 52-42 victory over Monroe Central.
Freddies’ coach Luke Beal is happy with the way his team played in Week 1 of the playoffs, but knows that they must up their effort to beat the Pirates at Nelsonville-York High School in the second round.
“This football team has a lot of experience, and a lot of these guys have played in a playoff game before,” Beal said of his team. “They’ve stayed pretty grounded, and it has been very workmanlike. A lot of them watched film on Wheelersburg early in the week and they realize that this is a very good football team. The focus has been good and they’ve kept the distractions to a minimum. They understand they’ve got a very big task ahead of them, and we’ve had good practices. They understand what it takes to be successful in the playoffs.”
Wheelersburg is no stranger to the playoffs, making its 22nd appearance overall. The Pirates are also no stranger to the Freddies, who defeated them in the regional semifinals, 41-38 in overtime, in 2007. In that game, Fredericktown jumped out to a 28-7 first-half lead and then watched Wheelersburg tie it up in the second half. This is not the same Fredericktown team, however, and this is not the same Wheelersburg squad.
In a story which appeared on Page 1B in Thursday’s edition of the News, the wrong player was identified. The story should have state that punter Zach Carter suffered a knee injury and will miss the remainder of the season. The News regrets the error.
The Pirates, under second-year coach Rob Woodward, now run a wishbone offense, and according to Beal, they do it quite well. This season, they have rushed for 3,516 yards while passing for 476 yards in 11 games. Tailbacks Brandon Shankweiler (150 carries, 1,270 yards, 19 TDs) and Tyler Craigmiles (106 carries, 1,109 yards, 13 TDs) are the primary ball carriers, while quarterback Tyler Lang also gets in on the action. Lang has rushed for 603 yards (91 carries, nine TDs) and passed for 399 yards (29-of-57, four TDs, two INTs). As a team, the Pirates are averaging 39 points a game.
“Their offense worries me very much; they are very good offensively,” said Beal. “To be able to score 52 points (against Monroe Central) and only throw the ball four times shows you how explosive their running game is. I think our guys saw that on film and realize that they can put points on the board very quickly. We understand that we have to play great team defense; we have to tackle well. We are going to have to be very physical to match their physical style of play because their offensive linemen are big and strong. Their running backs have good size and speed. This is a week where defense, as we’ve tried to emphasize all season, is really going to be key. We don’t want to get into a scoring contest. We want to try and contain their offense as much as possible.
“It is wishbone, but it is mainly still power running,” Beal added. “They don’t run a lot of option out of it, which would be something that would be very different from what we’ve seen. It is still a power running game, which is what we see quite a bit of. Scheme-wise, I’m not sure it will be anything that we haven’t seen, but there guys execute it very well. We’re really going to have to do a great job of securing the line of scrimmage. We can’t give them a surge offensively like they get against a lot of teams. We’ve got to try to get to their backs before they get out into the open. For the defensive front, it will be a big challenge this week.”
The fact that Wheelersburg is primarily a running team — 87.3 percent of their plays have been rushing plays this season — is no consolation to Beal. The Pirates do it so well that it will be a challenge even if the Freddies know what’s coming.
“In any football game, especially in our conference, we’ve had to stop the run first,” said Beal. “Our defense is really predicated on doing that. We gear ourselves to stop the run because that’s what you have to do to win games in our conference. Philosophy-wise, it is what we typically do, but they do have several good receivers and their quarterback is very athletic. You have to be aware of their ability to throw. It is a situation where you just have to play great assignment football. We want our defensive backs to come up and support the run, but they’ve still got to do their job first. Our front eight will concentrate on stopping the run, and our secondary has to play the pass when they go to it.”
Meanwhile, the Freddies’ offense has challenges of its own. While the Wheelersburg offensive line is big and physical, its defense is more speed oriented. The Pirates like to fly around to the football, causing 13 fumbles and nine interceptions this season. Watching the film, Beal has an idea of what may work, but like last week’s game against Caldwell, his team needs to be ready to change speeds at the drop of a hat.
“I wouldn’t say we saw and holes or weaknesses (on film), but we will take what their defense gives us,” said Beal. “They tend to be in zone coverage, so we will have to see exactly what their philosophy is during the game and adjust to it. We feel if we execute, we should be able to move the football against any of the teams we play. That’s got to be our main goal — executing on offense. We’ll do what we do best, and try to be balanced. Hopefully, if we can do that and not make mistakes, we’ll win the football game.”
A large highlight of last week’s game was the improvement of the special teams’ play. Kicker Branden Smith nailed two field goals and was perfect on his extra-point attempts. The return team also put the offense in position where it could score.
“Special teams were better last week, but we still need to work on our coverage team. Our return team has been pretty good and Branden is kicking the ball well. (Wheelersburg’s) running backs are also the kick returners, so we need to make sure we don’t allow the type of things that happened against Loudonville where we gave up the big returns. That’s something we have really been working on this week.
“We’re know that in a game like this, field position is going to be critical. If you give either offense a short field, there is a good chance they’ll be able to score. We don’t want to give their offense a short field, and at the same time, we want the short field for our offense. If we can do that, it definitely is going to give us an advantage.”
Everything isn’t going exactly perfect for the Freddies heading into Friday’s game. Punter Zach Miller’s season is over after suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter against Caldwell. Thomas Hinkle will take over the duties this week.
“We just found out today that he suffered a torn ACL, so he won’t be back,” said Beal. “The nice thing for us is Thomas punted all of last year, so he’ll take over.”