JOHNSTOWN — In a game of inches, the Fredericktown Freddies came up a few yards short Friday night.
Taking on the Ridgewood Generals in the Division V Region 19 final at Johnstown’s Chambers Memorial Stadium, the Freddies finally ran into a team that was faster then they were, and that speed was tough to overcome.
After a rough first half which saw Ridgewood (13-0) hold a 6-0 lead, the Freddies (12-1) got into a track meet with the Generals in the third quarter, and fell, 21-14. Ridgewood piled up 338 yards of offense on the ground in the contest, producing two 100-yard rushers — Jake Conrad (124 yards on 28 carries) and Colt Landis (17 carries for 107 yards).
“We caught some breaks, and we played good defense,” said Ridgewood coach John Slusser. “I knew they were explosive offensively, and in the second half we saw that. ... I thought we played great defense all night. To hold a team like Fredericktown to 14 points is not easy. They are a great offensive football team with a lot of weapons.”
The first half was sloppy for both teams, which resulted in the 6-0 score at halftime. The Generals moved the ball, but could only come up with one touchdown. Fredericktown, meanwhile, struggled offensively to find a rhythm and turned the ball over twice in the first quarter.
“Early on, it seemed like we did not adjust well to the speed of their offense,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal. “They were operating at a higher speed than we were, and it caught us on our heels a little bit. We knew that was something we couldn’t allow to happen. As the half went on, defensively, it seemed like we adjusted to that; we started to settle down. We felt fortunate at halftime to only be down six points because we were not tackling well in the first half, and our tempo was not very good. Offensively, we couldn’t find any consistency at all.”
Ridgewood put together an 11-play, four-minute drive on its first possession after Evan Jones recovered a Matt Smith fumble that ended Fredericktown’s first possession. The General drive covered 58 yards and was capped off with a 6-yard scoring run by James Wiggins. Nick Stacy blocked the extra-point kick to make it a 6-0 game.
Ridgewood was haunted by penalties in the first half, committing six. Back-to-back penalties cost the Generals in the second quarter, but a 23-yard run by Conrad set up a first-and-goal situation. After a 5-yard pickup by Wiggins, Conrad was called upon. He fumbled the football at the 4, however, and Matt Proper recovered for Fredericktown to stop the threat. That was one of the few highlights in the first half for Fredericktown.
The Freddies picked it up in the second half, however. After stopping the Generals on their opening possession of the third quarter, Fredericktown put together a six-play drive that ended with Fredericktown points. Thomas Hinkle hit C.J. Ruhl with a 59-yard pass on third-and-long to keep the drive going, and then he capped it with a 5-yard TD pass to Tony Lybarger. Branden Smith’s kick was good to give Fredericktown a one-point lead, 7-6.
Ridgewood wasted little time answering, though. It scored just 1:44 later open a 55-yard run by Nick Bellick, and a two-point conversion run by Conrad put the Generals up by seven. Not to be outdone, Fredericktown put together a 10-play drive of its own after getting a 27-yard kickoff return from Lybarger. After getting a 13-yard run by Ruhl on fourth-and-1 at the 24-yard line, Hinkle hooked up with Austin Hoeflich for a 11-yard touchdown completion. Smith’s kick tied the game at 14 with 55 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Ridgewood scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. On its next drive, Fredericktown got a healthy dose of Conrad, but couldn’t find a way to stop him consistently. He was involved in seven of the drive’s 12 plays, including an 18-yard pass to Wiggins on the first play of the drive. Landis capped the drive with a 3-yard scoring run with 8:09 to play, and Skylor McQuiston kicked the extra point to make it a 21-14 game.
“In the second half, we played with better intensity, at least early on,” Beal said. “We got the momentum, but in the fourth quarter, we just couldn’t stop their run. They were wearing us down and kept the chains moving. We just couldn’t get the ball back. When a team can control the tempo of the game with their running game, it makes it very difficult.”
Fredericktown had two chances in the closing minutes, but both drives ended with interceptions. The last drive, starting with 1:20 left, saw Hinkle convert a 10-yard fourth-down run to keep the drive alive. With no timeouts, he then picked up another first down with an 11-yard scramble, and completed a 17-yard pass to Tyler Hathaway for another. On the next play, Hinkle found Lybarger for a 6-yard gain, but Lybarger was ruled inbounds and the clock kept running. Hinkle quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock with 3.1 seconds left, giving his team one final shot at the end zone from 36 yards out. He heaved the ball into the end zone on the final play, but Wiggins intercepted it to seal the Freddies’ fate.
“They made more plays than we did,” said Beal. “We were unable to make plays when we needed them. We were sloppy early on, and in the second half, we made some plays and made some things happen, but we just couldn’t get consistency. ... In a game like this, especially where teams are evenly matched, you can’t make mistakes.
“We’ve been in tight situations before so there wasn’t a sense of panic. In tough situation in the past, we’ve been able to make plays, and tonight, we weren’t able to do that. Even that last drive, we were calm and cool. Without timeouts, though, we kind of had our backs to the wall.”
The loss ends a special season for the Freddies, and is the end of the line for the seniors. It also is a positive for the younger players, who contributed much this season.
“The tough thing about this game is, in the regional final, it is really hard to lose a game that is so close,” said Beal. “It could have gone either way if a few things had happened differently. ... Our seniors have a lot to be proud of. They’ve been in the playoffs in three of the last four years, and been in the regional final twice. They won 12 games as seniors. They’ve accomplished the goals they set out for themselves. It would have been nice to play another week, but they’ve got a tremendous amount to be proud of.
“We’ve got a lot of juniors and sophomores coming back with experience. We had a lot of kids that were integral parts of this team, so the challenge for them will be to get bigger and stronger, and try to come back next year and keep the success going.”