SPARTA — Taking advantage of your opponent’s mistakes can be crucial in football — especially in the first game of the season.
Fredericktown was able to do just that Friday, edging host Highland 17-14 in a fiercely fought battle between the rivals. The Freddies forced four turnovers, including two huge interceptions by Nathan Cubbage in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory.
“Mistakes in the first half haunted us,” said Fredericktown coach Brian Baum. “We talked at halftime about making adjustments and playing our game. These kids aren’t used to being down. They were nervous, but came out and played their game.
“Nathan Cubbage is a real nice athlete. He adjusted well to the ball and made some nice plays.”
The first half was all Highland as the Scots rolled out to a 14-3 lead. The Scots got an interception from senior defensive back Colby Randall to set up the first score. Clay Chipps ran it in from 18 yards out on just the second play after the pick to put Highland up 7-0.
Fredericktown bounced right back, though, marching from their 19 to the Highland 13 before the drive stalled. Branden Smith booted in a 30-yard field goal to put the Freddies on the board.
Highland took the next drive 80 yards on just 8 plays to break the game open. Hayden Mailey went 30 yards, after breaking a couple of tackles at the line of scrimmage, for the score.
“We had the momentum going our way in the first half,” Highland coach Chad Carpenter said. “I thought the effort was there all night. We came out ready to play from the start.”
The Scots missed a golden opportunity late in the first half, though, fumbling the ball away inside the Fredericktown 10-yard line.
“We had our opportunities, but were not able to capitalize on them. We did not make the plays when we needed to,” said Carpenter. “Against a team like Fredericktown, you can’t make mistakes and we made mistakes at crucial times.”
The Freddies looked like they were right back in the game when Matt Smith went 94 yards on the first play after the fumble recovery. But, a penalty on the Freddies negated the touchdown and they had to settle for a long field goal attempt at halftime.
That momentum they had gained, plus some adjustments at halftime, helped the Freddies take control in the second half. An 82-yard drive on just eight plays, six of which were longer than 10 yards, put the Freddies right back in the game. Smith was the workhorse in the drive, rushing for 62 yards, including the 12-yard touchdown romp.
“It’s the same halftime speech I gave them last week — get rid of the sloppy mistakes and play your game and you will win,” Baum said. “If we believe in ourselves and believe in our staff, we’ll win some games this year.”
A Highland turnover at the beginning of the fourth quarter gave the Freddies a golden opportunity, which they took full advantage of. Ryan Logan threw to Austin Updike in the end zone, but he was hit as he caught the ball, which flew into the air and the waiting arms of Tyler Hathaway for the score.
Both teams’ defenses took over at that point, forcing three turnovers in the final seven minutes. Cubbage made both his interceptions at that point, helping the Freddies preserve the win.
Smith led the Freddies offensively, rushing for 157 yards on 20 carries. Austin Hoeflich, despite leaving the game twice with cramps, rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. Hathaway ran for 14 and passed for another 22. Logan completed three passes for 42 yards.
Highland got a balanced rushing attack, led by Mailey’s 62 yards. Chipps added 59, Artie McAndrew had 50 and Colby Randall 45.
Both teams are on the road next Friday. Fredericktown travels to Berne Union while Highland opens Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference play at North Union.
“We’ve got to come in, watch film and correct our mistakes. We can’t hang our heads. We’ve got to learn from this and move forward. We’ve got to keep our heads up and try to get the confidence going again,” Carpenter said.