Cadets face toughest challenge of 2020 season, take on Springfield Saturday in state semifinal
BEVERLY — Two years ago, the Fort Frye football team played in its first ever state semifinal game.
The Cadets lost to eventual state champion Kirtland that year, ending the deepest playoff run in program history. The next step for Fort Frye is getting to the state championship game, which they can do with a win over Springfield at 7 p.m. Saturday. The game will take place at Zanesville’s John D. Sulsberger Memorial Stadium, with the winner advancing to the Division VI state final the following week.
It’s the biggest game in Fort Frye history, and the Cadets are treating it as such.
“It’s definitely a different feel at practice,” said Fort Frye head coach Eric Huck, who guided the Cadets past Fairland 47-7 last week for the regional title. “It’s been like that the last couple weeks, really. There’s been a different intensity and focus, and it’s there again this week. These guys are so excited.”
The game will pit two 10-0 teams against each other. Fort Frye is averaging 37.1 points per game this season and has only allowed 58 total. Springfield, led by head coach Sean Guerriero, has scored 43.9 per game while surrendering 11.5. Last week, the Tigers scored a last-second touchdown on a miraculous trick play to escape past Norwayne, 52-48. It was Springfield’s second consecutive regional championship — they lost to Anna in the state final last year.
The Tigers have an All-Ohio quarterback in Beau Brungard, who had a monster game against Norwayne. Brungard finished with 307 all-purpose yards and had seven total touchdowns in the win.
“The quarterback is the first thing that comes to mind,” Huck said while analyzing Springfield. “He’s good in both aspects — he throws it well and runs very well. We definitely have to know where he is at all times. He has to be a focus for us.”
One of Fort Frye’s biggest strengths on defense has been keeping opponents out of the end zone. Only twice in 10 games did an opponent score more than seven points against the Cadets. Springfield will be the best offense they’ve seen this season.
“Our defense has to play very well this week,” Huck said. “We have to slow down their offense. This will definitely be the biggest challenge our defense has seen so far.”
Last week, Norwayne had success running the ball on Springfield’s defense. The running game has been Fort Frye’s biggest weapon on offense, averaging 6.4 yards per carry as a team this season. Huck said running it down Springfield’s throat won’t be easy.
“They’re very disciplined up front,” Huck said. “Their defensive line controls the gaps and they do their job. Norwayne had a line that was big and able to get push. Other than Norwayne, Springfield hasn’t really given up points like that. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us to control the line of scrimmage. We have to be disciplined up front.”
Fort Frye’s starting offensive line of Casey Brooker (left tackle), Hunter Kesselring (left guard), Dylan Hart (center), Kaleb Bailey (right guard) and Eric Isner (right tackle) is one of the best O-lines Huck has ever coached.
“We knew we had good players back in Dylan, Kesselring and Brooker, but we had question marks on the other side,” Huck said. “We weren’t sure who was going to step in. Bailey has done an excellent job. Isner moved from tight end and really solidified that side of the line. We were able to move Braden Medley to tight end, and it’s really helped that offensive line.
“There was a learning curve in the beginning of the season. They just got so much better as the season has gone on. I can’t believe how good they’ve got and how well they work together.”
Huck recalled the last time the Cadets played at Zanesville’s John D. Sulsberger Memorial Stadium, a 2016 regional final loss to Newark Catholic. Fort Frye’s current seniors were eighth-graders that year. Since that loss, Fort Frye has gone 43-4 with a 9-3 record in the playoffs. This senior class has taken the program to new heights, and now, they’ll try to do something that’s never been done in program history — get to the state final.
“We have to take care of the football,” Huck said. “We can’t have turnovers. Up front, we have to be able to move people and create holes. We have to be able to run the ball like we have in the past. On defense, we have to at least slow down their running game and their passing game.”
Jordan Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.