SPARTA — School starts this week and the first big exam of the year is Friday. The area’s two top football teams in 2009 will clash in an annual gridiron backyard grudge match that will go a long way toward answering many lingering questions.
Will the visiting Fredericktown Freddies (12-1 in 2009) and their new coach, Brian Baum, transition smoothly to a new era in 2010? Will it just be business as usual for the host Highland Scots (8-3 in 2009) who return seven starters on both sides of the ball?
The Scots, led by their coach Chad Carpenter, take their first step toward what they hope is a fifth straight state playoff appearance. To get things off on the right foot, Highland quarterback Jake Ulrey and the Scots will need to get this first one under their belt.
“We really need to get that confidence,” said Carpenter. “We really lack that confidence. If we can get that confidence, it can really turn the season around, right at the start.”
Baum and the Freddies are determined to give the Scots a battle at the line.
“We have to try to match their intensity and their physical play,” said Baum. “We’ll have the step our game up and beat them at the line of scrimmage. If they can dictate what happens at the line of scrimmage they’ll have the good things happen for them.”
With all of the success that both teams enjoyed last season, this is one season-opener that has become an intense area rivalry.
“I think it’s important for both teams to get off with a win,” said Carpenter. “We both play tough schedules. It just adds to the excitement of the game. Our schools are really close to each other and a lot of our kids know each other and it’s really developed into a big rivalry.”
The Freddies will try to stop the Scots’ running back corps with assistant coach Will Hartley’s time-tested defensive strategy. Middle linebacker Austin Hoeflich will lead a defensive unit that is still very strong — even with all of the new faces.
“As a new head coach, I didn’t want to mix everything up,” said Baum. “I wanted to keep everything basically the same.”
Carpenter knows that, despite the new personnel, these are the same, old Freddies.
“From the scrimmages, it doesn’t look like Fredericktown has skipped a beat,” said Carpenter. “They’re really big up front. They have a lot of skilled athletes. They are quick and very athletic and, I think, they try to utilize those guys very well. It looks like, after the first couple of scrimmages, that they are definitely a team to watch in the area.”
Whether Fredericktown decides to go with Tyler Hathaway or Ryan Logan at quarterback on Friday, there will be plenty of talent in the backfield to hand off to. Stopping the Freddies running attack may not be the Scots’ only worry. If Logan gets time the throw, he’ll test the Scots’ defensive backfield as well.
“(Logan) is primarily a throwing quarterback,” said Carpenter. “For a younger guy, he comes in there with a lot of poise and confidence. That’s when they run a lot of their spread stuff. When they run the I, Hathaway comes in. So, unfortunately, we have to get ready for two different types of offenses on Friday. It’s tough, facing a team like that when you know what they’re going to run, but you don’t know which way they are going to go. It causes a lot of problems.”
Baum is hoping to keep the Scots off balance by juggling both quarterbacks and both types of offenses.
“We’ve got to attack that perimeter,” said Baum. “My goal as a coach is to keep it well-balanced. I like to run people over but I like to throw so, you’ll see a balanced attack from us.”
The Scots have a team of running backs, led by Artie McAndrew, to make up for the loss of last year’s top area running back, Justin Staton.
“Justin was, obviously, a great running back,” said Carpenter. “We really miss him. We’re trying to replace him with a couple of different guys. We’ll probably rotate around a little bit back there and we’ll see which on emerges from that.”
Both coaches agree that this game will come down to a battle for the line of scrimmage.
“Our D-line has to play low,” said Baum. “They’ll have to play physical. Our linebackers have to attack. Our DBs cannot afford to fall asleep in case of the play action pass. We’ve go to keep it balanced on defense. If they are running the ball, we have to tackle them.”
“That’s where the game is going to be won or lost — right in the trenches,” said Carpenter. “Our guys are well aware of what they’re up against. It is more or less a battle of who can do what with what we have on the offensive and defensive lines. We’ve got a lot of returning guys up front and they are going to have control that line scrimmage.”