NELSONVILLE — The Fredericktown Freddies played a game of give and take against the Wheelersburg Pirates on Friday night in a Division V Regional Semifinal at Nelsonville-York High School.
The Freddies gave up a fumble and a pass interference penalty in the first half, which led to two Pirate scores. Fredericktown, however, took away the ball when it mattered, recovering a first-and-goal fumble at the 1-yard line with 31 seconds left to seal a 15-14 victory.
“That was a crazy game,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal. “I told our kids to never say die because you never know what can happen. As long as you keep battling, you’ve got a chance.”
“This means everything,” said Freddie quarterback Thomas Hinkle. “It shows no matter how down we are, we can fight back as a team. We can play against anybody and come from behind in any situation.”
After managing just a safety in the first half, Fredericktown came out and scored once in the third quarter and again early in the fourth to take a 15-14 lead. Then, after trading possessions, Wheelersburg took over on its own 2-yard line with 3:29 to go.
The Freddies (12-0) forced a fourth-and-12 from the 18, but Pirate quarterback Tyler Lang hit Zaide Whitley for a 34-yard completion. That jump-started the offense, which moved all the way down to the 1. Then on first down, C.J. Ruhl jarred the ball loose from Wheelersburg running back Julian Silvey, and Nathan Cubbage recovered the ball to seal the Freddies’ victory.
“This is great, but we are not done yet,” said Fredericktown’s Austin Hoeflich. “There is no other feeling like this, especially in a game like that. A victory feels great.”
It was the second big play of the night for Cubbage, who took a Hinkle pass 79 yards to the end zone nine minutes earlier to put the Freddies on top.
“That’s a big play we like to go to and it always seems to be there,” said Hinkle. “I rolled out and they were all over Tony [Lybarger], and Nathan didn’t have anybody around him. I knew if I got him the ball, he was gone. Luckily, I got it there.”
Wheelersburg (9-3) dominated the first half, though, as Fredericktown gave the Pirates two big opportunities. After forcing a fourth-down punt on the first drive of the game, a fumbled punt was recovered by Wheelersburg, giving the Pirates second life. Eight plays later, Tyler Craigsmile punched across the goal line to put Pirates on top, 7-0.
Fredericktown answered by moving the ball to the 36-yard line, but after the drive stalled, Hinkle pooch-punted the ball and Hoeflich downed the ball at the 5. Scott Walker took Wheelersburg’s first carry and gained four yards before the ball came loose. After several bounces backward, the ball went out of the end zone for a Fredericktown safety.
That was the only scoring the Freddies got in the first half as Wheelersburg took a commanding lead before halftime. The Pirates put together a 21-play drive that ate up 7:19 of the second quarter. A pass interference call on a fourth-and-24 play gave the Pirates another opportunity, which they capitalized on. Lang capped the drive with a 1–yard plunge with 1:14 to go and put Wheelersburg ahead, 14-2, at the break.
“They are a great football team and had a great running game,” said Beal. “The one thing we knew we could not do is give them second opportunities, and we did that early in the game. … I think that was really key. We gave them new life, but we didn’t feel like we were playing poorly.”
Fredericktown came out of the locker room in the second half with a noticeable determination. The Freddies began to play smashmouth football, which helped turn things around. After pinning the Pirates deep in their own territory and forcing a three-and-out series, Fredericktown took over at the 25-yard line. Facing third-and-10, Hinkle found Ruhl open on a post pattern for a 25-yard score. Branden Smith’s kick cut the deficit to 14-9 after three.
“In the second half, I felt we played with a much better tempo offensively, and with much better intensity defensively,” said Beal. “When we went in at halftime, we knew that we had not played well in first half. The kids knew that we had not played as well as we could have. We knew we needed to regroup and play better. It was just a matter of playing the second half. We kept it together and made plays when we needed to.”
With the win, Fredericktown advances to its second Division V Regional Final in three years. And just like last time, the Freddies’ win over Wheelersburg wasn’t without a lot of excitement.
“To be able to win two games like this in a three-year span against great Wheelersburg teams is great for our program and great for our kids,” Beal said. “To be able to make some mistakes, not play as well as we could have and still win is a situation we have to learn from.”
Fredericktown will face West Lafayette Ridgewood, who was a 20-12 winner over Oak Hill in Lancaster on Friday night. The game will be played on Friday night at 7:30 at a site to be announced on Sunday.