Hillsdale quarterback Jack Fickes runs upfield.
Hillsdale quarterback Jack Fickes (2) cuts upfield after a key block from Braylen Jarvis (22) on the way to a big gain Friday at Hillsdale High School. The Hillsdale duo connected on a pair of touchdown passes in a 31-3 route. Credit: Doug Haidet

JEROMESVILLE — The last “super blue moon” until the year 2037 sat majestically in the night sky Friday behind the visitors bleachers at Hillsdale High School.

The rare sight was fitting, because the Falcons dominated in what turned into a once-in-a-blue moon, 31-3 route of visiting Loudonville.

It was Hillsdale’s biggest margin of victory over the Redbirds (1-2) since before the turn of the century, pushing the Falcons to 3-0 for the first time since 2019. The Ashland County matchup that’s been called the “Backyard Brawl” through the years turned into much more of a backyard lull.

“The last couple years we started off 1-2, so to be able to go into league play 3-0 is always good,” said Hillsdale coach Trevor Cline, whose program will open Wayne County Athletic League play next week with a huge tilt at Norwayne (3-0).

It didn’t look like it would be a runaway victory for the Falcons early on.

Loudonville scored the game’s first points on the opening drive with a 21-yard field goal from Aidan Neibert, and the Redbirds were set up to go ahead 10-0 early in the second quarter. But after a key sack from Brady Heller, Hillsdale blew up a fourth-and-three play on its own 15-yard line to take the ball back.

The Falcons marched 83 yards on nine plays for the game’s first touchdown from there — a 28-yard pass from Jack Fickes to Hayden McFadden — and Loudonville never got close to scoring again.

“I thought we were the more physical team the first quarter and a half, and then one bad thing goes wrong (on the fourth-down play),” LHS coach John Battaglia said. “We’ve just got to find a way to respond and handle adversity.

“Last year’s guys were able to overcome some of those situations a little bit better and it’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to do that.”

The game was still far from over late in the first half, with the Falcons carrying a slim 7-3 lead inside the final minute.

Fickes had just been intercepted in the end zone by Loudonville defensive back Matt Sprang. But Sprang, who doubles as the Redbirds quarterback, returned the favor two plays later when 6-foot-6 defensive end Bradey Krichbaum picked off his ill-advised throw and returned it to the Loudonville 5 yard line just 36 seconds before halftime.

“That had been a good play for us the last couple weeks,” Battaglia said. “I probably should have called it the other way there (because) they had (Krichbaum on the right side) and he’s a big guy. … Ultimately, I’ll take the blame on that.”

One play later, Fickes rolled right and found Braylen Jarvis for a touchdown in the right corner. AJ Brown’s second of four PAT kicks gave the Falcons a 14-3 halftime lead and all the momentum they needed.

Hillsdale scored the game’s final 31 points, getting two more receiving touchdowns from Jarvis and McFadden, respectively, in the second half, to go along with a 24-yard field goal from Brown.

It was a bit of an offensive breakout for Jarvis, an All-Ohio linebacker who Cline said hadn’t gotten the ball much yet this season. With usual starting running back Owen Sloan on the sidelines due to an injury, Jarvis stepped up with 12 carries for 80 yards and six catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s one of our best blocking slots, so he’s been blocking a lot for us and he hasn’t gotten the ball as much as we would like to give him the ball,” Cline said. “He did exactly what we thought he would do, just step in and just take right over.”

Meanwhile, McFadden was busy putting together a monster night at receiver while teaming up with Fickes (18-for-23, 261 yards passing), piling up nine catches for 180 yards and his two touchdowns. The second one went for 31 yards up the right sideline after McFadden spun out of a tackle for the game’s final points with 9:30 to play.

A week after rushing for three scores, Fickes passed for four.

“McFadden and the rest of our receivers have done a very good job of going out there and blocking,” Cline said. “Tonight, when we were struggling to run the ball a little bit and we saw that we had a mismatch out there with (McFadden) … not only did he catch it, but he made a play after he had the football in his hands.”

For Loudonville, Sprang ended his night 7-of-20 for 80 yards and one interception through the air. Redbirds receiver Cam Beachy (three catches, 50 yards) collected the bulk of those yards.

Baylor Weiser led the LHS rushing game with 45 yards on 10 carries.

The Falcons, meanwhile, checked off a huge box with the victory. The last 10 winners in the Loudonville-Hillsdale matchup have gone on to make the playoffs, and the Falcons already have advanced an Ashland-area record seven years in a row.

Hillsdale’s last three 3-0 starts (2019, 2017, 2016) all led to playoff qualifications as well, but Cline isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“We didn’t sign up to play football to be 3-0,” he said. “We have higher goals than that, so we have to just continue to find a way to keep working hard and find ways to get better. We’re looking forward to that game against Norwayne next week.”

Doug Haidet is a 17-year resident of Ashland. He wrote sports in some capacity for the Ashland Times-Gazette from 2006 to 2018. He lives with his wife, Christy, and son, Murphy.