FORT LORAMIE — The Midwest Athletic Conference’s reputation of stellar football is known statewide. New Bremen hasn’t been a part of that conversation much historically, but coach Chris Schmidt thinks it’s time.
The Cardinals provided another example why on Friday.
New Bremen shut down Fort Loramie’s high-powered offense and earned a 16-8 victory in a Division VII, Region 28 semifinal at Redskin Stadium. The squad advances to a regional final for the second consecutive year, where it will again face MAC rival Marion Local.
Fort Loramie (7-2) averaged 468.8 yards and 48.6 points per game entering Friday’s playoff game but managed 213 yards against the Cardinals. The Redskins had to punt eight times, turned the ball over on downs twice and managed their only points on a deep pass on a fourth-and-short at midfield.
“Our defense has been really good all year,” New Bremen coach Chris Schmidt said. “I think people in the MAC know we’re pretty good, but I think’s there’s kind of a perception on the outside — maybe because they don’t hear about us a whole lot — that we’re not at the same level as some other teams. I think this year, we’ve proved that.”
The Cardinals (7-2) lost to Marion Local 21-13 in Week 2 and fell to 2-2 overall after a 24-7 loss to Coldwater in Week 4. They’ve won five straight since and have posted wins over MAC foes Versailles (36-7) and St. Henry (28-13) in that time, the latter of which was a playoff victory last week.
New Bremen has held opponents to an average of 218 yards and 10.3 per game. The squad’s defense has been particularly strong stopping opponents’ rushing attacks and was again on Friday.
The Redskins entered Friday’s game averaging 296 rushing yards per game and racked up 313 rushing yards in a 42-0 playoff win over Ansonia last week. They managed eight yards on 22 carries on Friday.
“We knew tonight would be a big challenge, but we thought our defense would be up to the challenge if we came out and executed,” Schmidt said.
“It’s no secret what they do,” Schmidt said. “They play great defense, run the football and try to hit you over top with big plays in the passing game. There’s a lot of familiarity there.
“… I’m proud of our kids. We played them Week 2, which feels like an eon ago now, and it was almost like, ‘Let’s try to find a way to work our way back to get another shot.’ Fortunately, we were able to do that. We’ll have to have a great week of practice and preparation, and we’ll see what happens.”
The Cardinals could have run away early on Friday but struggled to come up with points in the red zone in the first half.
New Bremen turned the ball over on downs at Fort Loramie’s 36-yard line on its first drive, and its second drive ended when Owen Gabel missed a 28-yard field goal attempt.
Fort Loramie’s Sam Barhorst intercepted a pass at the 11 early in the second quarter to end the Cardinals’ third possession. But New Bremen was able to score on its fourth drive and took a 3-0 lead after Gabel hit a 28-yard field goal.
New Bremen punted on its fifth drive but forced the Redskins into a three-and-out in one minute. Two plays later, senior quarterback Mitchell Hays ran 43 yards up the visitor’s sideline to boost the squad’s lead to 10-0 with 42 seconds left.
The Cardinals increased the lead on the first drive of the third quarter.
After Wyatt Dicke ran 45 yards to move New Bremen into the red zone, Hays threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Dicke three plays later.
It was a broken play Hays made something out of by scrambling. After running right out of the pocket, he turned back and ran left and threw to Dicke, who ran toward the home sideline and crossed into the end zone with 9:18 left. The squad missed a two-point conversion try but kept a 16-0 lead.
“I was like everybody else on that, just becoming a spectator and seeing what happens,” Schmidt said. “Thankfully Mitchell scrambled around on that, and our kids kept playing.”
Fort Loramie punted on its first six drives on Friday, and its last drive of the first half ended when New Bremen’s Nick Alig intercepted a pass.
The Redskins finally made a big play on their first drive of the third.
On a fourth-and-two at the 40, Collin Moore threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Logan Eilerman, who beat his defender and scored with 7:22 left. Moore scored on a two-point conversion attempt to cut the gap in half.
“I think the Eilerman kid just outran our corner on that, and that was a great ball by Moore,” Schmidt said. “We knew that was a connection we’d have to worry about. We’d been good all night. We weren’t good right there, and fortunately it didn’t come back to bite us in the end.”
Fort Loramie turned it over on downs on its next drive and punted on its first two possessions in the fourth quarter. The squad got the ball back at its 1-yard line with 2:55 left, picked up three first downs and moved to New Bremen’s 34.
But the Redskins turned the ball over on downs with 1:23 left after a pass attempt was deflected, and New Bremen ran out the clock.
“It was almost kind of apropos that our defense was going to have to win the game for us,” Schmidt said. “That’s been in many ways our strength this year, and for them to be out there late and have to find a stop, I felt pretty good about that. They stepped up and made a play. That’s a good way to finish it.”
The Redskins hadn’t scored less than 41 points before Friday and had surpassed 300 yards of offense in all but one of its other games.
“They’re a great football team too,” Schmidt said. “We just found a way to gut it out.”
It was the final game of the season for the Redskins, which will lose 16 seniors to graduation, including Moore.
Several other seniors were multiple-year starters, including running back/linebacker Nate Meyer, lineman Mack Fortman and linebacker/running back Max Hoying, who was a D-VII all-Ohio selection as a sophomore and junior.
The Cardinals had 335 yards of offense. Hays completed 7-of-19 passes for 136 yards and ran for 92 yards on 20 carries. Dicke ran for 56 yards on four carries and Bertke ran for 46 yards on 12 carries. Dan Homan led the squad with 88 receiving yards on three catches.
Dicke, who also plays at linebacker, led the team with 5.5 tackles.
Moore completed 19-of-33 passes for 205 yards. Eilerman caught eight passes for 104 yards.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.