After bye week, Freeport ready to face rival Deer Lakes

Wednesday, September 6, 2017 | 5:57 PM

As Freeport went through an unusual bye week in Week 1, one nagging worry cropped up in the back of coach John Gaillot's mind.

“I'm apprehensive because I'm (wondering) having that week off, how are we going to respond?” Gaillot said. “Are we going to come out flat, or are we going to be biting nails, can't wait to come out, and have a lot of energy? That's the only concern I have.”

It's a concern mainly because of what faces the Yellowjackets: a road Allegheny Conference opener against a motivated Deer Lakes team.

In an expected wide-open conference race, every game takes on greater importance, particularly with only two guaranteed playoff spots. One misstep, one shaky performance, can sink a team's otherwise strong season.

“Once you get into conference play, every game's a playoff game if you want a chance to be at the dance,” Gaillot said.

Two years ago, Freeport was the belle of the ball, winning the Allegheny Conference and making it all the way to the WPIAL semifinals. And the Yellowjackets' 2016 season started in Cinderella-like fashion but ultimately turned into a pumpkin with four straight losses to close the season.

Deer Lakes, on the other hand, hopes to cut in. The Lancers made the playoffs two years ago for the second time in school history but still want to establish themselves as a perennial contender.

“It's just re-establishing that mentality which got us in the playoffs in '15,” Deer Lakes coach Steve Sciullo said. “Those guys checked their ego at the door, they put their hard hats on, they punched the clock and they went to work. I think that's what this community is about, and that's what we want to be about.”

That mentality eluded Deer Lakes (0-1, 0-1) in Week 1, a 34-21 loss to Apollo-Ridge. The Lancers were tied with the Vikings until just before halftime, but some early missed opportunities and an inconsistent third quarter led to their downfall.

“That was a game we thought we could have won,” Sciullo said. “We did not compete with them in the third quarter. They competed to win. We competed to just finish the game. You never want to see that, especially on tape.

“There's some things we obviously want to get back. There's a lot of plays we left on the field in the pass game and run game. It's a matter of getting on your guy, doing your job and finishing the play. It's about doing your job, not worrying about what another guy's doing.”

Fierce rivals in many sports because of their closeness in distance and school size, Freeport holds the recent edge in football. The Yellowjackets hold a six-game winning streak over Deer Lakes in their series, with the Lancers' last victory coming in 2010.

“They work hard, and that's what I think we have to mirror,” Deer Lakes senior Josh Solomon said. “We have to go harder than them, and we have to play longer.”

Two seasons ago, Deer Lakes came closer than any team in the Allegheny Conference to knocking off Freeport during the Yellowjackets' undefeated run to the conference title. In Freeport's last regular-season game at the venerable James E. Swartz Memorial Field, the Yellowjackets blocked the Lancers' potential go-ahead field goal attempt and returned it for a clinching touchdown.

Freeport won last season's meeting 38-6, but the memory of 2015 still lingers.

“It's a rival, so we're always excited for it,” Freeport senior Jake Sarver said. “All the years I've played them, when I was (a sophomore), it was a close game down to the end. So we always go in thinking they're better than us. We're just ready for it.”

Before last week's bye, Freeport put together a complete performance in a 43-6 Week Zero win over Yough. Junior quarterback Austin Romanchak accounted for all six Yellowjackets touchdowns, but Gaillot said the work of his new starters on the offensive and defensive lines — players like seniors Cody Bargerstock, Jarrett Dougherty, Jacob Leri and Shane Sweeny and sophomores Garrett Ben and Pierce Craven — impressed him.

The battle in the trenches could determine the outcome Friday.

“The tough teams in our league win,” Sciullo said. “(Conference champion Keystone Oaks) had athletes last year, but they were tough as (nails). They were tough up front. They were good up front. … That's how you win games, especially in high school football.”

While he might wonder about his players' rust factor, Gaillot won't be able to question their motivation to play football. Even with an apparent off night, about a dozen Freeport players went to watch the Allegheny Conference game between Seton LaSalle and Shady Side Academy. They were told not to attend the Deer Lakes/Apollo-Ridge game.

“There's a lot of motivation for us,” Sarver said. “We want to do better than last year. We don't want to slow it down. We want to keep the train going.”

Deer Lakes wants to stop it.

“Every week's a new week,” Sciullo said. “We were 0-1 last week. That week (stunk). This is a new week: We want to beat Freeport.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .

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