For the third time in school history, the Buckeye Trail Warriors will be participating in the Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoffs. The Warriors (10-0, 6-0 Pioneer Valley Conference) will be hosting the Fredericktown Freddies (8-2) at the Bill Baker Activity Complex on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in a Division V, Region 19 showdown.
Heath Dawson has more.
OLD WASHINGTON – For the third time in school history, the Buckeye Trail Warriors will be participating in the Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoffs.
The Warriors (10-0, 6-0 Pioneer Valley Conference) will be hosting the Fredericktown Freddies (8-2) at the Bill Baker Activity Complex on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in a Division V, Region 19 showdown.
Both the Warriors and Freddies will be making their second straight appearances in the postseason. Buckeye Trail dropped a 42-12 decision to Shadyside in the 2006 Division VI, Region 23 quarterfinals while Fredericktown fell to West Jefferson, 34-7, in the D-V, Region 19 quarters.
Buckeye Trail will no doubt be amped up to play in front of the home crowd and has several fans reminiscing about the 1994 Warriors’ squad that reached the state semifinals where it lost to Wellsville (33-21).
Randy Thompson’s squad posted the school’s second 10-0 regular season record by recording wins over Massillon Tuslaw (22-12), Caldwell (27-13), Frontier (44-21), Barnesville (50-7), Zanesville Rosecrans (37-21), Shenandoah (33-0), Fort Frye (22-3), Maysville (42-20), River (26-12) and Monroe Central (28-7).
While the Warriors basically cruised through the regular season, which included a PVC title, Fredericktown needed a win over Loudonville in its finale and some help to earn a berth in the extra season.
Fredericktown defeated Crestline (45-0), Colonel Crawford (40-0), Danville (7-0), Northridge (24-23), Centerburg (34-24), Utica (38-7), East Knox (34-6) and Loudonville (59-20). The Freddies’ two losses were to Highland (26-16) in the season opener and to Johnstown (20-13) in Week Six.
On the offensive side of the football, Fredericktown is led by senior four-year starter Merrit Zollars (6-1, 170) at quarterback. Zollars is 116-of-196 for 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns while throwing six interceptions. He has also rushed for 544 yards and six scores on 97 carries.
Thompson said his Warriors will have to concentrate on shutting down Zollars.
“They do like to throw the ball,” Thompson began. They’ll move Zollars around. The kid is a good thrower, but we’ve seen some good passers this year. One thing about Zollars is that he catches it from the gun and throws it quickly. He throws darts. They like to dink one side and dink the other. They’ll get four, five or six yards and then break one. They are capable of putting together long drives.
“They’ll spread the field and throw the ball around. They really do a good job at it. They kind of remind me a lot of our team. They move up and down the field well. We’re just going to have to play well,” Thompson added.
Other top players for Fredericktown include: senior running back Ryan Hathaway (5-11, 175); senior tight end Taylor Hitzfield (6-4, 215); and sophomore fullback C.J. Ruhl (5-11, 165).
Hathaway is the Freddies’ second top offensive threat. He has rushed for 538 yards and eight TDs on 82 carries. The dual threat has also reeled in a team-high 40 receptions for 616 yards and five scores. Hitzfield is the team’s second leading receiver with 19 catches for 241 yards and four TDs. Ruhl has pulled down 10 balls for 62 yards and two touchdowns.
Thompson said the Freddies have several weapons beside Zollars and pointed out that his Warriors will also have to focus on paying attention to those players.
“Hathaway is a very good runner and can also catch the ball,” Thompson stated. “The key will be stopping Zollars and Hathaway, who is their team’s threat for breaking the long run. Hitzfield is a tall athletic tight end who can run well. Ruhl is a solid fullback that can move well. They’ll move their kids around to try to create some confusion. We will just need to put them in second and long situations.”
While Fredericktown averaged 31.0 points per game (310 for the season), Trail also posted impressive offensive numbers. The Warriors tallied 331 points on the year for an average of 33.1 ppg.
Buckeye Trail is led on offense by senior signal caller Brock Davis (6-0, 185), who is 83-of-156 for 1,460 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He has also rushed for 529 yards and 11 TDs on 95 carries.
Senior running back Steve Beros (5-10, 170) leads the grounds crew with 1,068 yards and 10 scores on 111 attempts. Steve’s sophomore brother – Bobby (6-0, 170) – has also been a key cog in the running game as he has posted 364 yards and three TDs on just 45 attempts. Senior fullback Dan Starr (5-11, 220) has added 207 yards and four touchdowns on 50 carries.
Davis’ favorite target through the air is senior Sam Bond-Zielinski (5-11, 170), who has caught 30 balls for 519 yards and three scores. Senior tight end Brandon Ogden (6-3, 200) has 17 receptions for 318 yards and three TDs; Bobby Beros has 11 catches for 331 yards and four scores; senior Tim Nealey (5-10, 175) has reeled in 11 aerials for 126 yards and two TDs; Steve Beros has reeled in six catches for 74 yards; and Starr has caught four balls for 39 yards.
The Warriors’ special teams is led by Bobby Beros, who is 24-of-38 on point-after touchdown attempts and has booted three field goals (32, 27 and 25 yards).
Thompson said his team is planning on doing the same things they have done all season when it comes to offense on Friday night.
“I don’t really see any need to change what we’ve been doing,” Thompson commented. “We just need to do things better than we already have. We’re going to take what they give us. We always want to run the football and I think you beat good teams by running the ball. We have to be able to get first downs and keep drives moving. You do that by running the ball.”
By being the only team in Guernsey County and one of only two local schools (John Glenn) to reach the postseason, Thompson said the Buckeye Trail community is more than ready for Friday’s game.
“They’re all excited and they have a right to be,” he remarked. “This is great for the community and great for Guernsey County. It’s nice that we don’t have to drive two hours to play. We’re going to be at home and we’re comfortable playing at home. This is the only game in the immediate area on Friday night and we know a lot of people from Cambridge, Meadowbrook and other schools are going to attend the game in a show of support. We appreciate that fact.”
While Buckeye Trail has battled the injury bug throughout the 2007 campaign, Thompson did say that his team is nearly at full strength.
“Injury wise, we’re fine,” he admitted. “Obviously, we’ll be without Matt Wagner, but we’ve got everybody else back. We’ve really gotten beat up this year as we’ve been in some physical games. J.R. Larrick is back and has played well the last two weeks. We’re just looking forward to playing Friday night.”