Fostoria Educational Television highlight video from 1991 season.
By SCOTT COTTOS
REVIEW-TIMES SPORTS EDITOR
Dick Kidwell acknowledged that his Fostoria High School football team’s 1991 Division II state championship probably was the highlight of his 20-year stint as the Redmen’s head coach.
In the silver anniversary year of that achievement, Fostoria’s career leader in coaching victories noted that he had an inkling three years earlier that something might be brewing for 1991.
“In ’91, that was a special group of kids,” Kidwell, now retired, said from the sofa of his Fremont home. “We knew that because when they were freshmen — there were 17 of them, I think, not counting (his son) Derek, because Derek was with the varsity — we sent 17 kids up to (Toledo) Central Catholic. They had anywhere from 70 to 80 kids on their freshman team, and we beat them convincingly. We knew that was a very special group. Two of them started on the ’89 team and quite a few played backup or special teams.”
In 1989, Fostoria lost 21-14 to Cleveland St. Joseph in the Division II state title contest at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. The 1990 season ended with a 21-8 loss to eventual champion St. Marys Memorial in the semifinals.
There was no denying the 1991 Redmen, though. After 14 unbeaten games in which it was substantially challenged only three times and outscored the opposition by a cumulative 565-87, Fostoria brought home its first state crown since 1915 with a convincing 21-6 triumph over Uniontown Lake in the Division II final in front of 15,352 at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
That an attendance record was set at that contest reflected the meaning that season had for those directly associated with the Redmen, as well as those who cheered them on.
“It was a special time,” said Tom Breitigam, who was an all-Ohio nosetackle and standout fullback for the Redmen in 1991. “It was a good time for the community as a whole.”
Evidence of the community’s enjoyment was most evident when the team’s charter busses returned to town hours after the victory in a game that had begun at 11 a.m.
“People were packed 15, 20 deep on every street,” said Tom Grine, the team’s defensive coordinator and Kidwell’s successor as head coach after FHS won the 1996 state championship. “It was just amazing.”
Kidwell recalled Toledo television station WTOL broadcasting live that night from a gathering at assistant coach Randy Richardson’s home after the Redmen returned home from the game.
“I remember going home at 2:30 and there was still a lot of horn-honking in town, people celebrating,” he said.
While the 1991 senior class gave coach Kidwell an idea of what it could do, it received a wake-up call after the 1990 playoff loss to St. Marys Memorial, said Derek Kidwell, the team’s all-Ohio quarterback and eventual winner of the 1991 Associated Press Mr. Football award.
“Derek came to the sideline late in the ballgame and said, ‘Dad, we’ve got to get stronger,'” the elder Kidwell said. “That group really dedicated itself to getting strong in the weight room.”
Derek Kidwell, now Fostoria’s head coach, said the younger players followed the lead of the seniors including a group of captains that included himself, Breitigam, Jared Schlosser, Chad Rice and Scott Scherger.
“It was more of a commitment, doing extra reps, doing burnout stuff, spending extra time and not allowing kids to take the easy way out and blow off one day a week or say they had an excuse and allowing that excuse to be granted,” he said. “We held kids more accountable, and I think our presence as leaders, as upperclassmen — I don’t think people wanted to disappoint us, so they worked as we did.”
Derek Kidwell had publicly promised that Fostoria would win a state title for his father. Dick Kidwell raised the ante.
“Coach Kidwell put it out there before the season ever started: ‘We’re on a mission and we’re not going to settle for anything less than the state championship,'” Grine said. “That kind of leadership, in my opinion, was a very courageous thing to do. You know, the season is long, injuries take place and you don’t always play your best football and things like that. But I think that was one of the keys that kept the drive and the motivation for the coaches and the players on the team, and actually, the community.”
Fan support helped spur on the team, as well, as Redmen fans showed up early to games, in great numbers and in high voice.
“Our fans intimidated,” Dick Kidwell said. “We’d go places and our fans would be there before we got there on the bus. I remember playing a game at Toledo Waite. We probably had 200 or 300 people in the stands and there’s two people sitting over on the other side. Our fans were noisy, and they believed as much as the players believed that we were going to win the football game.”
The Redmen, dressed all in black but for red helmets for home games at Memorial Stadium, believed they gave themselves a mental edge before and during the games.
“When we walk on the field and we’re stretching and doing pregame stuff and the other team is turned around and looking at you and paying attention to you instead of what they’re supposed to be doing, there are probably little head games going on,’ Derek Kidwell said. “The way we did our pregame — we came out silent, we didn’t clap, we didn’t cheer, we didn’t hoot, we didn’t holler; we stretched, we went to our groups and we warmed up — there were probably some head games going on along the way. But that wasn’t our problem. That was their problem.”
Said Rice, a senior all-Ohio inside linebacker on that 1991 team: “I don’t think we tried to intimidate by being badasses, or hooting and hollering. We just put it out there that we were there.”
Fostoria started the season by thumping Wapakoneta 38-0, Cleveland John Hay 76-0 and Tiffin Columbian 63-0. Hay’s coaches called it a game and exited Memorial Stadium after three quarters.
The Redmen’s toughest challenges came in wins over Toledo St. Francis (28-27), Toledo Whitmer (10-7) and Fremont Ross (14-6). The victory over St. Francis was preserved late when junior defensive back Tony Hammond knocked down a passing attempt for a two-point conversion.
The players celebrated that win as they did all but the 14th — in great moderation.
“Those kids were so businesslike,” Dick Kidwell said. “We worried as a coaching staff because we’d win a game and there was no celebration. Even through the playoffs, those kids didn’t celebrate until they won over in Massillon that day. Very businesslike. They had a mission they wanted to accomplish.”
Said Derek Kidwell: “We enjoyed it in our own way. We didn’t celebrate a lot outside on the field. We would talk about it and smile and joke and laugh in the locker room, the showers, on the bus coming home, stuff like that. But our ultimate goal was to be state champs, and we weren’t going to take a deep breath or take our foot off the pedal until that happened.”
Left-handed passing Derek Kidwell led a diverse offense and also played end on a defense that was generally considered the key to the season’s success.
“Tom totally handled the defense,” Dick Kidwell said of Grine. “He was a great defensive coordinator. He really got the kids ready to play. We played strictly man to man, we played a five-man front and slanted it. We really educated our linebackers. Tom would bring the secondary over to the house on Thursday nights and go over things. Defensively, our kids were well prepared.”
After nailing down the Great Lakes League championship and completing an undefeated regular season, Fostoria blazed its way to the championship game by whipping Holland Springfield 61-7, Solon 28-10 and Marysville 36-6.
During the week leading up to the state title game, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Derek Kidwell, who would threw for 1,536 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 379 yards and another five TDs that season, repeated as the state’s Division II offensive back of the year and was named Mr. Football.
“It never really crossed my mind,” he said of winning the state’s top individual award. “I never thought about it. It was never a goal. Our ultimate goal was to win the state championship.
Everything else was irrelevant to me. I still don’t put much credence in the award myself. I think it’s more of a team accomplishment. I think it says more about our team collectively than it does me as an individual.”
FHS had another first-team all-Ohio choice on offense in 6-1, 213-pound lineman Chris Gee.
And while the 6-0, 220-pound Breitigam received first-team all-Ohio recognition as a defensive lineman, he was a dissatisfied customer who carried a chip on his shoulder into the state title game.
“He was motivated because (Lake’s) running back (Matt Christopher, a linebacker on defense) was selected the defensive player of the year in the state of Ohio,” Dick Kidwell said. “Tommy had on his goal card that he wanted to be defensive player of the year in the the state of Ohio.
“That just totally motivated him. He had a tremendous state championship game.”
Breitigam set a tone for the game right away.
“On the first play, they handed off to (Christopher),” Rice said. “Tommy slammed him and I was right behind.”
After that, Breitigam not only keyed a Fostoria defense that limited Christopher to 37 yards on 15 carries, he also rushed for 113 yards on 23 totes and scored on runs of 1 yard and 16 yards.
“I feel like I redeemed myself,” Breitigam said. “I left myself on the field.”
Breitigam’s touchdowns boosted the Redmen to a 14-6 halftime lead.
Derek Kidwell struggled, completing just 5 of 13 passes for 35 yards with three interceptions. But his 9-yard scoring pass to Schlosser in the fourth quarter broke the back of the Blue Streaks.
The Redmen finally had an all-out celebration 8 minutes and 25 seconds later.
“Once I hit Jared (Schlosser) on a play-action pass to go up by two scores, we kind of knew we had total control of the game,” Derek Kidwell said. “It was neat to see the fans really start to cut loose, to be able to celebrate; to see the coaches start smiling; to understand that a dream was fulfilled.
“For me, personally, to give my dad something that he deserved, that I promised to bring it him, it was special.”
The unique feeling of a shared title was mutual.
“The fact that Derek was the quarterback on the team, that made it very special,” Dick Kidwell said.
To the victors went the spoils. In addition to bringing home the state-championship trophy, FHS had been voted the state’s No. 1 team in Division II in The Associated Press poll. USA Today ranked the Redmen the No. 7 nationally.
“We had super, all-star coaches and Redmen before us paved the way,” Breitigam said. “Everything popped that season.”