FREDERICKTOWN — It was business as usual for the Freddies on Saturday night. They approached an unfamiliar foe like any other tough opponent, and any worries that being in the playoffs would create a nervous atmosphere were gone by halftime.
Fredericktown downed Woodsfield Monroe Central in front of a standing room only home crowd, 36-7, to advance to the Regional Semifinals.
Like so many Fredericktown (12-0) games, it started with a defensive stand, followed by a drive for a score. The Freddies opened up the playbook early, with Tyler Hathaway hitting Austin Updike and Tony Lybarger early on passes. Those plays opened up the defense, and allowed the offensive line to open holes for Matt Smith to scoot through. Five minutes into the game, it was 7-0.
But Monroe Central (8-3) made it a game, at least early on. Their style of offense was unusual, as the Seminoles installed a check-off system in an attempt to slow the Freddies’ furious pass rush. Quarterback Tyler Kinchen would wait for the teams to set, then look for the play call from the sidelines, and issue the audible at the line of scrimmage. At first, the ploy worked. The Seminoles connected on some throws of their own, as Kinchen hooked up with Korey Lafferre on a 36-yard touchdown pass.
“We learned early on, we don’t panic. We can stay in the game, just keep fighting,” Fredericktown head coach Brian Baum said.
But after another scoring drive by the Freddies, the defense was ready. When Kinchen stood to hear the call from the sidelines, Fredericktown’s coaches would call a defensive audible of their own. Essentially, they randomized their defensive calls. That made Monroe Central’s read-and-audible ploy completely useless. The Seminoles didn’t get another first down until late in the second quarter, when the score was 20-7.
It wasn’t complexly one-sided. Although Fredericktown moved the ball well on the ground, with Smith and Joey Burns combining for 258 yards, they had four drives stall inside the Seminole 20-yard line. On three of the drives, Brandon Smith’s foot bailed them out with field goals. On the other, Hathaway was harassed by the defensive rush on fourth down and was unable to get the ball past the 5 yard line, turning the ball over.
“We have yet to play that perfect game,” Baum said. “I give them credit, they stopped us. We have to limit our mistakes.”
At that point, Monroe Central’s mistakes cost them any chance of keeping the game close. Kinchen’s long throw was picked off by Brandon Helmick, The Seminoles stopped the Freddies in the following series, but a pass interference penalty kept the drive alive. Two long Matt Smith runs later, the Freddies were in the end zone. The Seminoles began to drive, but Helmick picked off another Kinchen pass, this time in the end zone and stopping what looked like a sure score for Monroe Central. Instead, Fredericktown mixed the run and the pass to drive to the 26, where Brandon Smith connected with a season-long 43 yard field goal to give the Freddies a 23-7 halftime lead.
Fredericktown looked to decide the game right away at the start of the second half. A quick slant to Updike turned into a 35-yard gain, and two plays later, Matt Smith carried the ball 35 yards himself for his third touchdown of the night. That made the score 30-7.
Nothing was going right for Monroe Central. Kinchen was intercepted two more times in the next two drives, both times by Hathaway. Both ensuing Fredericktown drives led to two more field goals, giving Brandon Smith a season-high five kicks.
“(Brandon Smith) has been practicing with us hard every day (while he was out), so it’s been no concern for us. He’s a weapon,” Baum said.
One of those drives drained more than eight minutes from the clock, essentially killing any chance of a Seminole comeback.
“Turnovers are the big thing. We’ve been preaching all week that if we win the turnover battle, we’ll win the game, and that’s how it turned out,” Baum said.
As he addressed his team following the game, Baum informed his team who they’ll be playing next Saturday: Wheelersburg.
“I know you’re familiar with them,” Baum reminded them. “So we know what to do. Let’s meet Monday to prepare for them.”
Last season, Fredericktown met Wheelersburg in the regional semifinals. In that game, played at Nelsonville-York High School, the Freddies recovered a late fumble to preserve a 15-14 win. This Saturday, they’ll meet again, at the same spot in the playoffs, at the same field.