By JAMIE BAKER
Twenty-five years ago, the 1991 Fostoria Redmen football team was a microcosm of the city it represented at the Division II OHSAA state football championship game at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium — blue collar.
So says Pat Magers, a lifetime Fostoria resident and the Review Times sports editor when the Redmen defeated Uniontown Lake 21-6 to win the first of the school’s two OHSAA state football championships.
“We have some tough times now and during that era it was really the beginning of the tough times here in Fostoria. You could kind of feel it, even though it wasn’t completely here yet,” Magers said.
“Atlas closed in 1995. Chrysler and Copeland were long gone by then. Carbon was still going pretty well, but even Atlas and Autolite didn’t have as many workers at that point than they did in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The city had a deficit then, Emerson Junior High was crumbling and I remember a half-percent income tax failed twice.
“It was a blue-collar city and it just wasn’t advancing. All of the retail was in Findlay. You could just feel it. That football team lifted the whole town. Those guys were blue collar as hell. They went to work each game with their lunch pails.”
The 1991 Redmen were Fostoria and Fostoria has always been a football town.
Building toward the goal
You could say the championship seeds were already sown for that 1991 run to the Division II state title.
Coach Dick Kidwell had already taken the Redmen to the playoffs seven times during his time in charge of the program. The Redmen even made the state final in 1989, outplaying, but losing a 21-14 decision to a star-studded Cleveland St. Joseph team at Ohio Stadium.
“That 1989 team was key because the Catholic school mystique was coming into play at that point. I don’t think Dick Kidwell, until they played Cleveland St. Joseph as well as they did in the 1989 final, ever thought they could win a state championship,” Magers said.
“They beat the heck out of them physically. Fostoria gave them the ball after a failed pitch in the end zone and St. Joe scored on a 50-60 yard punt return.
“I think Fostoria outgained them 300-140 or something like that, and some of the kids on the 1991 team played a prominent role for the Redmen in 1989, too.
“Dick was depressed because he didn’t feel like St. Joe respected them. I didn’t get that feeling. At that point, I think that’s when Dick knew that his teams could play with anybody.”
Big regular-season wins
Fostoria could and did play with anyone during the Kidwell era. As one of the smallest schools in the Great Lakes League, Fostoria didn’t back away from any challenge.
During their 1991 state championship season, the Redmen gutted out close wins over Whitmer (10-7) and Fremont Ross (14-6). The Redmen broke a 54-year winless drought against Fremont Ross as the two teams met for the first time in several years after a lengthy hiatus in the series.
“That was a helluva game,” Magers said. “Every time Fostoria played Fremont Ross, it was a great game. Dick never lost to Ross, you know. Fremont Ross coach Rex Radeloff hated losing to Fostoria because his team usually had the better talent. When Fostoria beat Ross during Charles Woodson’s senior year he was beside himself. I remember there was a $4,000 50/50 that night. Their games with Whitmer were always big, too.”
But perhaps the signature victory during that 1991 regular season was a 28-27 thriller the Redmen won against Toledo St. Francis in Week 7.
Fostoria, the state’s No. 1 ranked team in Division II, knocked off the Knights, the No. 9 team in Division I, when Tony Hammond batted away a pass after a botched snap on a PAT kick in the final minutes to preserve the win.
With an estimated 5,300 fans jammed into Memorial Stadium, the game between Fostoria and St. Francis certainly lived up to the pregame hype.
The Redmen had several standout players on the 1991 team.
Dick Kidwell’s son, and current Fostoria head coach Derek Kidwell, was named the fifth recipient of Ohio’s Associated Press Mr. Football award. Middle guard Tom Breitigam and offensive lineman Chris Gee were first-team all-Ohio selections while Chad Rice, the team’s leading tackler, was honorable mention all-state.
Kidwell broke every Fostoria passing record at the time, while Breitigam, at 230 pounds, was a bruising running back who was tough to take down. On the defensive line, Breitigam frequently had to be blocked by two or three offensive players freeing up Rice and other defensive teammates to make plays.
But there were a whole host of other players whose contributions put the Redmen on top.
“They had three or four awesome players but they had guys like Scott Scherger, too. You didn’t notice him during the game, but by the end he’d have three or four catches for 50 or 60 yards and a pick. Tony Hammond was another kid that was so fundamentally sound,” Magers said.
“That senior group was pretty tight. Jared Schlosser had an edge to him, he just went out and did his job. He had one or two big games. Aaron Mora transferred back before the season from Hopewell-Loudon and had a good season as a slot receiver. Todd M. Lucius probably only weighed a buck-fifty and was a solid receiver. Jason Woodley was fun to watch. He was a tough, little nut. I think Dick had a special fondness for him. He was a kid that would just keep coming at you.
“There were also kids like Joe Anderson on the line. They went to work, did their jobs and they didn’t make mistakes.”
Versatility on offense
Fostoria’s offense in 1991 was one of the most versatile offenses Magers says he’s covered in his 47 years as a sports writer.
Kidwell could move the ball down the field with short passes to guys like Hammond, Schlosser, Mora and Scherger. And when they wanted to, the Redmen could play smashmouth football with a trio of running backs with differing styles.
“Derek had a couple of lackluster games. Even in the final, he probably ran for more yards than he passed but when the passing game wasn’t there, they could line up and just run the ball right down your throat,” Magers said.
“Breitigam was something, tough to take down. But they’d run little Jason Doogs at you and Anthony Ferguson, if he got to the edge he was gone. He was fast. They were very versatile and other teams just couldn’t prepare for that offense. It was probably most versatile offense I’ve seen.”
In 1990, Fostoria’s drive to a second straight state final appearance was derailed with a loss to St. Marys Memorial in the state semifinals. Fostoria was beaten in all aspects of the game that night at the University of Toledo’s Glass Bowl.
“Dick thought St. Marys would be in their way in 1991. He went as many clinics as he could to prepare for approaches to combat St Marys’ Wing-T. It was like Ohio State taking time to prepare for Michigan year round,” Magers said. “Fostoria did the same thing to prepare for St. Marys because they thought it would be the team in their way to get to the state final.”
As it turned out, Marysville beat St. Marys in the opening round.
“Dick said he heard about the St. Marys loss on the bus and told me you never heard coaches hootin’ and hollerin’ so much in your life,” Magers said.
“They were perfectly fine with not having to play St. Marys again.”
Fostoria didn’t see a Wing-T team all year during the regular season but as it turned out, it saw three Wing-T teams in the playoffs. All that preparation paid off.
Road to Massillon
After capping an unbeaten regular season, the Redmen opened the playoffs by pummeling Springfield 61-7 at Findlay’s Donnell Stadium. Sophomore Damon Moore, who would go on to a starting role at Ohio State and an NFL career, subbed at quarterback for Kidwell and rushed for 140 yards on four carries with a pair of touchdowns.
The lopsided victory, which was watched by administrators from Macedonia Nordonia who were scheduled to begin a series with the Redmen the following year, caused the Northeast Ohio school to pay a hefty fine in order to get out of their contract to play the Redmen.
The following week the Redmen faced Solon, which was coached by former Findlay College All-American By Morgan and led by two-way standout Kim Herring, who would eventually have a nine-year career as a defensive back in the NFL. Trailing 10-7 early in the second half, Fostoria put three straight TDs on the board for a 28-10 win.
The Redmen had little trouble the following week, walloping an outmatched Marysville team 36-6 before more than 7,000 fans at Mansfield’s Arlin Field to set up Fostoria’s date with destiny.
“That team hoisted the city. It really gave everyone a boost. Fostoria was always Findlay’s little brother. That’s the way they looked at Fostoria, Tiffin had no right to, but they did the same, too. Things weren’t good here economically, but we had a team in the state championship game, they didn’t and it was our source of pride,” Magers said.
“Fostoria sold 6,000 tickets for that championship game. Think about that. Think about people who don’t know football, don’t care about football, are 2 years old or who were incapable of going that were living here. It all came down to if you could walk, you were going to that game.”
Dick Kidwell was determined that his Redmen were going to finish what they started two years earlier when they lost to Cleveland St. Joseph in the state final.
“For the coaches along with the kids like Derek and Tommy, who played in the ’89 game, it comes down to the same thing: How many times do you get the second opportunity to finish what you were unable to do before? By God, we’re going to get it done now,” Kidwell told Magers in the days leading up to the 1991 state final against unbeaten Uniontown Lake.
“Opposing coaches used to go on about how physical Fostoria was and Uniontown Lake had a small college-sized line. Fostoria’s tackles were maybe 230 and the Redmen just handled them that day,” Magers recalled. “They were confident and weren’t going to be denied.”
Breitigam scored on a pair of touchdown runs, Derek Kidwell hit Schlosser with a 9-yard TD strike in the fourth quarter and the defense did the rest shutting down Lake in a 21-6 win in front of more than 15,000 fans in Massillon.
Championship won, Fostoria was ready to celebrate their champions.
It started around 7 p.m. with a few people milling around the downtown area and car horns beeping as they drove through the middle of the city, according to a story on the front page of the Review Times.
Fostoria fans lined the streets five and six deep, some scaling walls for a better vantage point waiting for the team bus to return home. By 8:30 p.m., the hundreds of fans downtown had swelled to thousands. At 9 p.m., word was received that the team was in Bascom being escorted through the county by the Seneca County Sheriff’s Department.
As the buses rolled into downtown, thousands of fans jammed Main Street slowing the police escort and team bus to a crawl. Fans cheered, shouted, screamed and pounded on the bus in celebration of Fostoria’s state champs.
“It was a mess downtown,” Magers recalled. “There were already a lot of people gathered and, by the time the bus got there, you couldn’t even walk downtown. They had a charter bus and I can remember there was a huge window up front and there was Dick holding the trophy, smiling.”
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