Panthers preparing for first playoff game in 11 years against Fort Frye


Northeastern’s quarterback gets the pass off despite pressure from Fairbanks’ Justin Wulff (18). Also pictured for FHS is Braylon Green (7). The Panthers will travel to Fort Frye on Friday for the opening round of the Division VI playoffs.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
The Fairbanks High School football team will be making its first state playoff appearance since 2007 on Friday by traveling to Beverly, Ohio.
That’s a community in Washington County, a little more than 40 miles south of Zanesville and approximately 130 miles away from FHS’ home base.
It’s the home of Fort Frye High School, whose Cadets will take a 9-0 record into the game against the Panthers, who are 7-3.
Fort Frye, the No. 2 seed in Region 23 of Division VI, missed playing a week during the regular season as a Sept. 14 contest scheduled against Federal Hocking was canceled.
A lack of players on Hocking’s part forced the game to be called.
The Cadets are a team that likes to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible.
“They are very much a Wing T team that will run the ball 75 to 80 percent of the time,” said Panther head coach Patrick Cotter.
Fort Frye is led by senior quarterback Tate Engle, who knows a thing or two about winning football games.
A starter since his freshman campaign, Engle has led the Cadets to a 38-1 regular season record and an overall mark of 41-5.
Under his guidance, Fort Frye is averaging 40 points per game and is making its fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
Evan Schob lines up at fullback and is, as Cotter describes, “the workhorse” of the Cadets’ ground game.
“He’s a very hard runner between the tackles,” said the Panther boss, whose team is the seventh seed in Region 23.
Any team that employs the Wing T also likes to get to the perimeter of an opponent’s defense.
That task belongs to wingbacks Tyler Fisher and Brian Adkins.
“They are the edge guys,” said Cotter. “They like to run the jet sweep.”
The Wing T is an offense the Panthers are familiar with, since they saw it during games against North Union, Mechanicsburg and West Jefferson.
“It’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” said Cotter, whose defense limited state-ranked Mechanicsburg to just 176 yards rushing during a 21-14 overtime victory last Friday.
“We just have to read our keys and play assignment football,” he said.
Fort Frye, which has allowed only 110 points this season, will align in a 44 defensive front with cover 3 and man coverage in the secondary.
Schob and Dylan Hart are solid inside linebackers and several of their skill position players on offense will man spots in the secondary.
“They rotate a lot of guys on the line, but they’re all very aggressive,” said Cotter. “They do a good job of getting after the quarterback.”
With that said, the Panthers’ O-line of Sam Rengert, Matt Bouic, Billy Reed-Bodey, Dakota Key and Ethan Chippas must keep the heat off signal-caller Jacob Nicol.
While the Panthers can slam the ball at an opponent with their running game, there may be another offensive factor in their favor for this game.
“They see a lot of Wing T in their league (the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference),” said Cotter. “We can run the ball as well, but we do some things with our spread offense that may give them fits.”
Nicol has thrown the ball for 1,516 yards and 17 touchdowns and Tyler Beem has been on the receiving end of 44 of those passes.
Whether or not the Cadets will be able to cover such a potent pass-catch combination remains to be seen.
Whether it’s running or throwing the ball, Cotter said the Panthers need to stay on the same offensive track that has led to six victories in the past seven weeks.
“We did a lot of good things last week against Mechanicsburg, like getting a lot (18) of first downs,” he said. “We only scored 21 points, but by getting all of those first downs, we kept our defense off the field and moved the football.
“We have to do that against Fort Frye,” he said. “We have to make them chase us.
“The guys are very excited about the playoffs,” said Cotter. “However, we’re just treating this like another game and it’s business as usual for us.”

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