Wheelersburg struck first during the extra play with a 22-yard field goal to take a 38-35 lead, but on the ensuing possession, Fredericktown’s Ryan Hathaway found the end zone from a half a yard out to give the Freddies the 41-38 victory and secure a place in next week’s regional championship.
The third-and-goal touchdown dive from Hathaway was a fitting way to end a monster night that included a touchdown run, a touchdown pass, a touchdown reception, and two interceptions – including one returned for a touchdown – for the senior star.
“There was no way we weren’t getting that ball in the end zone,” an exhausted Hathaway said of his team’s overtime drive. “Even with the offense struggling a little in the second half, we never stopped believing, and we were not going to be denied. We knew we had four chances to get one yard, and eventually we found a way to get it in the end zone.”
The two teams each got early scores from their defense with the Freddies first getting a fumble recovery and return for a touchdown, only to see Wheelersburg respond with a defensive score of its own when Craig Stamper intercepted Merrit Zollars and took it to the house. Both Zollars and Stamper added successful PATs to their team’s respective touchdowns and the score was tied at seven.
Early in the second quarter the Freddies faced a fourth-and-10 from Wheelersburg’s 23-yard line when Coach Luke Beal went to his bag of tricks. Zollars took the snap and pitched it to Hathaway moving right. The southpaw running back then found a wide open Taylor Hitzfield in the end zone to give the Freddies a 13-7 advantage. The PAT from Zollars extended the lead to 14-7.
The Freddies would threaten again just before the half. After Zollars called his own number in short yardage situation to move the chains, Fredericktown moved into Wheelersburg territory. Wheelersburg’s Tyler Lang had a chance to stop the drive when the sophomore defensive back made a great read on a pass from Zollars, but Lang was unable to hang on leaving the ball in the hands of Zollars and the Freddie offense. Fredericktown would capitalize on the second chance as the drive was eventually capped of by a Zollars to Hathaway 16-yard TD. Zollars once again split the uprights giving the scarlet and grey the 21-7 advantage.
With a little less than two minutes remaining, Wheelersburg’s Drew Spradlin tried to shake off a rusty first half to lead his Pirate offense to a quick score. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the quick strike came from Fredericktown and again, it was Hathaway.
With the first-half clock clicking below a minute-and-a-half, Spradlin was looking out in the left flat when Hathaway stepped in front of the Pirate receiver, picked off the pass, and scampered 50 yards for what looked like a final dagger. The PAT sent the teams to the locker room with the Freddies up 28-7 and the owners of all the momentum. Although many fans at the nearly packed Fulton Field at Lancaster High School figured the game to be all but over, the Fredericktown coaches knew better.
“We explained to our kids at halftime that Wheelersburg was a proud program with great tradition and that they were going to come out fast in the second half,” said Coach Beal of a Wheelersburg program that was making its 20th playoff appearance in school history. “I was proud of how well we played in the first half, but I knew we were going to have to withstand a surge from them in the second half.”
Spradlin and the Wheelersburg offense did exactly what Coach Beal warned his team about at halftime. The 6-5 senior signal-caller was outstanding in half number two. Spradlin led touchdown drives on the first two possessions using a mixture of receivers including Matt Jenkins and Dustin Cook, as well as, using his feet to convert multiple first downs.
The Freddies did respond with a score of their own to extend the lead back to 35-21, but again Wheelersburg refused to go away.
“I thought our kids did a great job of continuing to fight back even after Fredericktown went back up 35-21,” said Wheelersburg head coach Tony Lewis. “This group of kids has been like that all year and that is a credit to our fine seniors. They have made this a close-knit group and they believe in one another.”
Finally, two fourth quarter touchdown tosses from Spradlin to Jordan Schankweiler with 7:54 and Jenkins with 5:58 to go, and the game was tied at 35 apiece setting up the before mentioned overtime drama.
The win moves Fredericktown to 10-2 and the Freddies will play Columbus Bishop Ready in next week’s regional championship. The Week 13 game will be at neutral site not yet determined.