Timely offensive plays in the first half, followed by some clutch defense late in the game, allowed the Highland Scots to get off to a winning start in the 2022 football season.
The Scots topped visiting Fredericktown by a 17-14 score in a game that wasn’t decided until Highland’s defense forced the Freddies to turn the ball over on downs with under a minute left in regulation.
“We didn’t think it’d be easy with them,” said Highland coach Ty Stover. “They’re a good club with a lot of seniors and we have a lot of sophomores here. We got it done and the kids made plays when we needed to make plays.”
The initial big plays were made by Fredericktown, though. After opening the contest with the ball, the Freddies got an 11-yard pass from Ben Mast to Teegan Ruhl on third-and-12 to set up a short fourth down play, which they converted. Shortly afterward, the visitors scored when Ruhl broke free and galloped 62 yards for six points.
Fredericktown’s extra point kick was blocked, though, which allowed the Scots to quickly take the lead. After two plays netted two yards, sophomore quarterback Kolton Stover hit Zach Schmidt behind the Freddie defense and the senior receiver took it 63 yards for a touchdown. Caleb Hunter added the PAT to give Highland their first lead at 7-6.
It looked like Fredericktown would bounce back and turn the game into a shootout, as a 16-yard run by Ruhl and a 37-yard pass from Mast to Grant Hartley helped push them deep into Scot territory. However, Highland’s defense held firm and forced a turnover via downs on their own two-yard line.
It didn’t take long for them to capitalize on that defense, as Dane Nauman took the first play from scrimmage the entire 98 yards. Hunter’s extra-point kick made it 14-6 late in the first quarter.
Stover said that after Fredericktown’s first drive, his team switched things up on defense.
“After that first score, I switched up the defense a little bit and after that, they had one big play,” said the coach, noting that his defense will have to learn on the fly this year. “We have a lot of sophomores and three kids new to varsity football.”
Another big defensive play — this time an interception by Hayden Kline — gave Highland the ball near midfield, but they would return the favor when a high snap led to the Freddies getting the ball back. Fredericktown would again have a drive thwarted deep in Scot territory on a second turnover by downs, leading to another Highland score.
Nauman got the team off to a good start with runs of 23 and 24 yards and the Scots would be able to make it to the Fredericktown 21 before stalling. Hunter would come through with a 38-yard field goal, though, to give them a 17-6 lead.
It would remain that way until early in the fourth quarter. Highland’s three possessions in the third ended in a fumble and two punts. On their third try, the Freddies would take advantage and go 43 yards in nine plays, getting a short scoring run by Ruhl and a two-point conversion run from Mast to close within a 17-14 score.
Stover noted that the Freddie defense played tough against Nauman in the second half. While the star junior back finished with a huge 300-yard performance, 181 of that number, as well as his biggest gains, came in the first two quarters.
“He had 300 yards,” said Stover. “There was a lot of chunking there and one big one. I’d like to be a lot cleaner than that.”
While Highland wouldn’t be able to widen that advantage, they were able to control the ball for much of the final 11 minutes of action and their defense was able to keep them on top. After forcing a quick Freddie punt on their next possession, they forced a Ruhl fumble and got their last-minute turnover on downs to preserve the win.
Nauman’s 300 yards led the team, while Stover completed four passes for 85 yards, with Schmidt recording a pair of catches for 75 yards.
Now, the Scots have a lengthy road trip, as their next three games will be away from home.
“We’re going to be on the road for about a month,” said Stover. “And with a tough schedule — it’s going to be a gauntlet.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS