MARION – One might not expect a game featuring 1,319 total yards of offense, 13 touchdowns and two punts to come down to defense.
But on Saturday night, in the first round of the Div. VI playoffs, it did.
GALLERY: Fredericktown at Elgin (First round – Div. VI Region 23 playoffs)
The Fredericktown Freddies (1-6) fell to the Elgin Comets (5-2), 52-42, in the first round of the Div. VI playoffs on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. The Freddies were seeded 21st in Region 23, while the Comets were seeded 12th.
The Elgin Comets, winless in 2019, strung together two straight defensive stops in the fourth quarter to hold off the Fredericktown Freddies, 52-42, and claim their first playoff win since 1999.
“It’s crazy, you know?” first-year Elgin head coach Zach Winslow said afterwards. “I mean, with COVID, a lot of crazy things happened to these seniors … They lost their baseball season, and came into this year – unknown, unknown, unknown. Then you get a season, and for something like this to happen ... This is a great way to make this season special for them.”
Fredericktown scored six touchdowns through the first three quarters on Friday night, taking a 42-40 lead heading into the fourth. The Freddies, set up at the Elgin 30-yard-line following several big runs, were primed to extend the lead. That’s when the Comets dug in.
On third down, Elgin’s secondary tackled Fredericktown wideout Kaid Carpenter in the backfield for a loss. Then, on fourth-and-11, Ben Mast’s deep pass to Teegan Ruhl was broken up by Elgin senior Ryan Coolbaugh. The Comets took over on downs, and the home crowd roared.
Elgin proceeded to pound the ball down the field, using multiple runners to wear down the Fredericktown defense. Eventually, the Freddies snapped: on fourth-and-four from the visitors’ 32, Elgin senior quarterback Jordan McCormack broke free up the right side, gaining 25 yards before being brought down at the Fredericktown 7.
Junior tailback Kevin Kline would score on the next play, sprinting into the end zone untouched to give Elgin a 46-42 lead with exactly five minutes remaining (the two-point conversion attempt failed).
Still, Fredericktown had plenty of time to march down the field and win the game. Once again, Elgin’s defense felt the world on its shoulders.
And once again, the Comets would deliver.
After advancing to their own 48-yard-line, the Freddies fumbled a handoff. The Comets’ secondary then broke up two straight passes, including a promising look over the middle, setting up another pivotal fourth-down opportunity. Fredericktown needed 13 yards to keep their playoff hopes alive, and the home stands rumbled as the clock approached the two-minute mark.
Mast dropped back to pass and launched a deep ball under pressure, a spiral intended for Carpenter, who was sprinting toward the goal line. But the ball was thrown a hair too long – just past Carpenter’s outstretched arms – and it fell incomplete.
Elgin, once again, took over on downs. Two plays later, smelling blood in the water, Kline found a hole and sprinted 48 yards for a touchdown. The junior was barely touched as he outran the Fredericktown secondary, a scarlet blur gliding towards victory.
The Comets missed the extra point, but it didn’t matter. They led by 10 with 1:25 remaining, and the celebration was on. Elgin’s 20-year postseason drought was over.
“They’re going to go down in the history books,” Winslow, all smiles, said of his team. “And they’ve got an opportunity to do something Elgin’s never done next week: win two playoff games.”
Winslow said Elgin’s fourth-quarter defensive turnaround was a product of will power – of heart. Nothing more, nothing less.
“Scheme-wise, other than alignment, we didn’t change reads or responsibilities,” he said. “We just started stepping up and making plays.”
Fredericktown tallied a season-high 42 points on Saturday, but still fell short. The team nearly won its first playoff game since 2015, but could not make enough plays down the stretch to upset the Comets on the road.
“We just battled all night …” Fredericktown head coach Will Hartley said. “In a back-and-forth game like this, all you can expect is to have an opportunity to win late. And we did, we had that opportunity to win late, and the ball just didn’t fall our way.
“Elgin got it done. Elgin got it done when they had to and we just didn’t – for whatever reason, the ball just didn’t fall our way and we didn’t take advantage of that opportunity to get the win, and here we are, losing a tough, close game.”
Elgin (5-2), seeded 12th in Region 23, will play at five-seed Barnesville (4-2) next Saturday. The winner will move on to the regional quarterfinals.
Fredericktown (1-6), seeded 21st, will head to Utica (0-7) for a regular-season matchup. The Freddies will close out the season at home against Northridge (1-6), who also lost in the first round, on Oct. 30. They could play Cardington (4-3) on Oct. 23 if the Pirates fall to Danville in the second round of the Div. VII playoffs next week.
The OHSAA expanded the playoffs this year to include every team in the state, following a shortened regular season due to COVID-19 precautions. Schools that are eliminated or have chosen not to enter the playoffs have the option to schedule additional regular-season games through Nov. 14, with a maximum of 10 games.
COMEBACK KIDS: Before Elgin staged its legendary fourth-quarter performance, the Comets managed to erase two double-digit deficits on Saturday.
The first came right out of the gate. Fredericktown senior Steven Tumbleson took the opening kickoff 75 yards to the house, giving the visitors the lead 14 seconds in. Then, after Elgin’s first drive stalled on fourth down at the 7-yard-line, the Freddies extended their lead. Tumbleson struck again, this time with a 44-yard scoring sprint, making it 14-0 Fredericktown late in the first quarter.
But the Comets would charge back. McCormack capped off an 80-yard, 12-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown plunge, bringing Elgin within 6 after a two-point conversion.
After a Trevor Jobes touchdown rush widened the Fredericktown lead, Elgin kept chipping away. The Comets closed the half with two demoralizing touchdown drives – one resulting in a 23-yard catch from Kline, the other in a goal-line plunge from McCormack – giving the home team a 24-21 lead going into the locker room.
It wouldn’t last for long, however. The Comets would have to dig themselves out of yet another hole in the coming quarter.
After both teams traded touchdowns to begin the second half (Fredericktown scored on a 4-yard catch by Jobes; Elgin scored on a 12-yard scamper from McCormack), the Freddies would build another lead. Sophomore Xavier Mullins hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass, then senior defensive back Zack Vogelsang stripped Elgin wideout Cy Starcher at his own 25-yard-line and ran the ball in for a score. Just like that, the Freddies were back on top, 42-32, with a minute remaining in the third.
The Comets, however, were once again undeterred. Senior Landon Mabe took the ensuing kickoff 46 yards up the middle of the field, setting Elgin up at the Fredericktown 39-yard-line. Kline reached paydirt on the next play, bolting up the sideline untouched.
His two-point conversion narrowed the deficit to 42-40 heading into the fourth quarter. The rest, as they say, was history.
How did Elgin manage to erase two double-digit deficits so quickly? Winslow said it came down to confidence – particularly on the offensive end of the field. The Comets always believed they could narrow the gap.
“Our kids have had tons of confidence in our offense, that we can score at any point in time,” said Winslow, whose Comets have hit the 50-point mark four times this year. “We’re always one play away from scoring.”
Had Fredericktown tacked on one more defensive stop, or forced one more turnover, Hartley said the outcome could have been different. But Elgin’s ability to hang around – and Fredericktown’s inability to put the Comets away – made all the difference down the stretch.
“We went up by two scores and it seemed like we could really put them away, and we let them back in the game,” Hartley lamented. “And I mean, Elgin competed, and they’re having a successful year. They’ve been in some pretty nip-and-tuck games, where they’re kind of a little (more used to) these tight games late, and maybe that helped them down the line.”
BY THE NUMBERS: Elgin and Fredericktown combined for over 1,300 yards on Saturday. No, that’s not a typo.
The Comets tallied 748 yards offensively, including 386 on the ground, 204 through the air and 158 on kick returns. They were led by McCormack, a dual-threat quarterback who kept Fredericktown guessing all night long. He threw 19-of-31 for 204 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions; he also ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries.
McCormack came through several times in late-down situations, finding receivers downfield or scrambling for the first down himself. On fourth-and-four from the Fredericktown 32 with 5:20 remaining, McCormack picked up 25 yards, setting the Comets up for the go-ahead touchdown one play later.
“He’s our guy,” Winslow said. “A coach told me once, a long time ago, that it’s not Xs and Os, it’s Jimmys and Joes. And when it’s fourth-and-four, and the game’s on the line, you give it to your Joe. And he came through.”
McCormack accounted for nearly half of Elgin’s all-purpose yards on Saturday. It was his versatility – not to mention the athleticism and skill – that made him unstoppable.
“We were getting some good pressure there, but he was breaking contain and extending plays,” Hartley said. “And that’s really hard on your secondary, to cover those guys that long.”
McCormack’s main target on Saturday was Kline, who racked up 86 yards and one touchdown on six catches. The junior also did damage on the ground, rushing for 151 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries.
Senior Canyan Dickason added 50 yards on nine carries for the Comets, while Starcher and Carter Andrich each recorded five catches.
Fredericktown, meanwhile, managed to rack up 571 yards offensively on Saturday. The Freddies had 230 on the ground, 83 through the air, and 258 on kick returns (including several game-changing runs from Tumbleson).
Mast, just a sophomore, showed substantial development. He came up clutch multiple times in late-down situations, including the back-shoulder pass to Mullins in the end zone to retake the lead late in the third quarter.
Hartley said Mast’s growth this season, which materialized Saturday, is symbolic of the team’s at-large.
“Ironically, our preview scrimmage was over here at Elgin," Hartley said. "And we did some good things that night, but you know, it was our first scrimmage. (There was) a lot of uncertainty. And that was kind of the theme throughout the week was, how much have we improved and how much have we progressed as a group over the last eight weeks?
“And definitely Ben ... he really has started to come into his own. He’s making really good decisions, and we’re able to distribute the ball to a lot of different guys – I mean, Kaid (Carpenter) had some catches, and Trevor Jobes did, and then we were able to hit the tight end a couple times. So we’re distributing the ball well, and all those things happen when you can start running the ball consistently. The other things open up, and you saw that tonight.”
The Freddies were able to run and pass effectively behind a strong effort from their offensive line. Ruhl led the team in rushing with 106 yards on 19 carries, while Tumbleson tallied 104 yards and one touchdown on 12 rushes. Jobes led the team in receiving with five catches for 54 yards and one touchdown.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Hartley said he was proud of his team’s effort on Saturday. Fredericktown played its best offensive game of the season, and with so many young players starting at key skill positions, the performance appeared promising.
“We knew that we were going to have to get over that hurdle and finish drives, which we haven’t been able to do consistently this year. And tonight, we did ...” Hartley said. “We were having success running the ball off-tackle and sprinkling in our play-action pass. We were getting a lot of kids touches on the ball. So offensively, we really rose to the challenge and did what we needed to do.”