FREDERICKTOWN — Each week, it seems like the Fredericktown Freddies might have met their match. And each week, the Freddies have found a way to win. That was the case last week against the Wheelersburg Pirates in Nelsonville, and it appears the case this week in the Division V Regional Final.
Undefeated Fredericktown will take on the undefeated Ridgewood Generals at Johnstown on Friday night, and it once again appears the Freddies may have met their match. Only time will tell if the outcome will be the same.
Fredericktown head coach Luke Beal has been watching a lot of film of the Generals, and at first glance, he sees a little of his own team in them.
“I think there are a lot of similarities in the two teams,” said Beal. “Physically, they are a team a lot like us. A lot of the teams we’ve played have been a lot bigger than us; we haven’t had a size advantage on very many teams. They are real similar. Size-wise, they are real similar. They have really good team speed. We’re hoping that we can match up with them. Defensively, they are a team that really runs to the ball well, and they tackle well. They’ve won some tough games; they are a team that just battles. They’ve been down in their playoff games and they keep fighting. You can tell they are tough kids, and they are well coached. We are going to have to bring our ‘A’ game if we are going to beat these guys.
“It seems like a pretty good game. These are two teams that match up pretty well, so it should be another great high school football game.”
The No. 6 seed, Ridgewood is coming off a 20-12 win over No. 2 seed Oak Hill in the regional semifinal. The Generals are a dangerous team, giving up just 150 points in 12 games, while scoring 474 themselves.
“Watching them on film, you could tell that the teams they are playing have had physically bigger kids. It seems like Ridgewood is winning games just on toughness and on desire,” Beal said. “We had a scout at the game last week, and he said Ridgewood just wanted it more. That makes them very dangerous, because in playoff games, especially when the two teams are evenly matched, a lot of times the team that wants it more and plays with more desire is the team that’s going to win. We’ve got to make sure that’s us this week. That is one thing that we have been talking about all week. We’ve got to buckle it up tight and make sure we are ready for a physical, hard-hitting game because I’m sure that is what it is going to be.”
The Generals are also battle-tested. Under coach John Slusser, they have become a perennial playoff contender. This is their first regional final appearance, however. For Fredericktown, this is their second regional final game in three years.
“They’ve been to the playoffs the last seven years in a row, and the more experience your kids have, the better,” said Beal. “We’re a little bit better prepared now than we were two years ago because our kids have been in those situations. Their kids, I’m sure, are benefitting from that as well. This is the year that they have an opportunity to take it a step further so I’m sure it is something that is important to their kids. It is going to be another reason why they are going to play very hard on Friday night.”
The Freddies have been working on their game plan for Friday night. After being fortunate to get a win last week, Beal has been pleased with the way his team has responded in preparation for Ridgewood.
“We’ve had a really good week of practice,” said Beal. “ One good thing to come from Friday night’s game, which in the first half we did not play as well as we could have, is we’ve realized we cannot play another game like that. We played much better in the second half, but we are not going to win games in the playoffs by being sloppy and making mistakes. This week, there has been sort of a renewed focus. We want to make sure we are sharp in practice and play that way on Friday night. I think our guys understand how close we were to losing that football game, and if you are going to lose in the playoffs, you want to make sure you played four great quarters with no regrets. I don’t know if last week we played four great quarters, so we want to make sure this week that we play four great quarters. Then, we will see what happens.”
The Generals, who are averaging 39.5 points a game on offense, present many challenges for Beal and his staff. Led by full back Jake Conrad (185 carries, 1,817 yards, 33 TDs), the Generals play a lot of base Wing-T. Wing backs James Wiggins (56 carries, 438 yards, 4 TDS) and Colt Landis (70 carries, 501 yards, 8 TDs) also carry the ball. Quarterback Kevin Davis has also proved to be a passing threat, throwing for 501 yards (38-of-64, two TDs, one INT). Conrad can also throw the ball, passing for 300 yards (17-of-26, three TDs, one INT) this season. Austin Bates is the top receiver this season, making 22 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns.
“When you get to this point in the playoffs, you are going to play teams that have balance,” Beal said. “They have the ability to run the football and pass the football. With this team, you’ve got to be able to stop the run. Ridgewood has three good running backs; their feature back has gotten a lot of yards, but their wing backs are also very good. They’ve got good speed and they run hard. You’ve got to be able to stop their jet sweep; you’ve got to be able to stop their fullback; you’ve got to be able to also stop the pass. They’ve been able to hit long passes on people. Last week against Oak Hill, they had a couple of long passes, so your secondary can’t fall asleep. Their offense presents a lot of challenges, just like last week. Wheelersburg was very similar. You just have to play great team defense and play assignment football.”
On the same token, Fredericktown’s offense will present many challenges to a strong Ridgewood defense. The Generals are averaging 74 tackles, three sacks and just over one interception a game this season. They also are a team that doesn’t like to punt the ball. For the season, the Generals have punted just 14 times for 452 yards.
“They are very good defensively, so we are going to need to spread the ball around,” said Beal. “That’s something we always try to do, and it is something we are going to have to really do this week. We’ll have to take what the defense gives us. If they are going to try and take somebody away, we’ve got to go to somebody else. Last week, Wheelersburg made us somewhat one dimensional, and we got into a lot of second- and third-and-long plays. We’ve got to do a better job on first down, and we’ve got to do a better job of running the football out of the spread formation. We’ve got to find our balance with the rush and pass, and we’ve got to be balanced in who we give the ball to as well.”
Ridgewood doesn’t present anything the Freddies haven’t already seen this season. It just does it better than anybody they’ve seen.
“Scheme-wise, we’ve seen it quite a bit,” said Beal. “A lot of teams in our league run variations of it. Danville does, Loudonville runs some of what they do as does Highland. I think, athletically, they look similar to Highland. They are tough kids and are explosive. Defensively, they may have better team speed than anybody we’ve seen. It is tough to make comparisons, but that’s the closest I could come.”
Fredericktown should have a home-field advantage of sorts. With the game being played at Johnstown’s Frank Chambers Stadium — a place the Freddies have already played once this season — it should work to their favor. Fredericktown beat Johnstown there on Oct. 2, 47-22.
“There are some mixed feelings playing at Johnstown,” Beal said. “At first, our kids were a little hesitant because when you make it this far, they would kind of like to go someplace new; it’s exciting. The more we thought about it, though, it is really nice to be in surroundings that we are used to. After going 2 1/2 hours to Nelsonville, it is nice to have a short trip. We’ll have a great crowd, and there will be the feel of home-field advantage, which I think is definitely a positive.”
The Freddies are ready for whatever Ridgewood throws at them. According to Beal, his team isn’t ready for this season to end, which is a good thing at this point.
“I think having played in a regional final game is a positive,” said Beal. “The biggest thing with this team is I don’t think they are satisfied. They’ve had a great season, but they want to keep playing. They’re not to that point where whatever happens, happens. These guys want to continue playing, and they are hungry. That mindset is definitely important, and is something we can build on.”