Allegheny Conference matchup with Shady Side Academy starts key stretch for Freeport

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017 | 5:21 PM


Were he to pick a genre of movie for the Shady Side Academy film he's viewing this week, Freeport coach John Gaillot might choose horror, with Skyy Moore and Dino Tomlin playing the roles of Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger.

The Yellowjackets face the difficult task of trying to keep Shady Side's top playmakers from slashing and dicing their defense the way they did in victories over Burrell and Apollo-Ridge the past two weeks. It's enough to make even the most veteran coaches nervous.

“I'm not eating much right now,” Gaillot said Tuesday, three days before his Yellowjackets (2-1, 1-0) will welcome Shady Side Academy (2-1, 2-1) to Freeport Area Athletic Stadium for an important early-season Allegheny Conference game.

After going winless in 2016, Shady Side Academy comes into Friday with playoff hopes, with the influx of playmakers the primary reason.

Moore, a junior quarterback and New Kensington native, started for SSA last season but broke his ankle early in the year, causing him to miss most of the campaign.

Dino Tomlin and younger brother Mason — the sons of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin — transferred to Shady Side Academy from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in the offseason, giving the Indians more firepower.

“They're a better team,” Freeport junior Austin Romanchak said. “They're really good. So we're going to prepare in every way we possibly can because they've got good players who can make big plays, so we're going to try to stop them.”

Perhaps Freeport knows the difficulty a team like Shady Side Academy poses because the Yellowjackets actually resemble the Indians. Like Moore, Romanchak is a dual-threat quarterback, and he has playmakers like wide receiver Jake Sarver and Conor Selinger to choose from. Both teams also are strong in the trenches.

“I think it'll be a fun time up front in the trenches,” Shady Side Academy coach Chuck DiNardo said. “(Romanchak) can make plays with his arm as well as with his feet, and he'll definitely be drawing eyes from our defense on Friday night for sure. They do a good job, they're well-coached, and you can see they do a good job running through their offense.”

Romanchak has 262 rushing and 113 passing yards through three games, with five total touchdowns.

Moore and Dino Tomlin combined for nine touchdowns the past two weeks as Shady Side Academy beat Burrell, 42-8, and Apollo-Ridge, 38-14.

Moore has 10 rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown. Tomlin returned a kickoff for a score against Apollo-Ridge.

“We just need to do our job,” Gaillot said. “If everybody does what they're supposed to do, their assignment, I believe you're not going to totally shut him down, but (you) try to eliminate the big plays. You have to make them earn when they score. Don't give them a cheap one, a 70- or 80-yard run. Make them drive 10, 15 plays, 18 plays to score, like we did against Yough. That's our mentality.”

Freeport limited its first two opponents, Yough and Deer Lakes, to six combined points, but the Yellowjackets struggled offensively and defensively in a 50-0 nonconference loss last week at Aliquippa.

“We just put it behind us, and we're just focusing on the rest of the season,” Gaillot said. “This is what matters. That one was a nonconference game. Our goal is to try to make the playoffs this year, so we need to focus on one game at a time right now. We kind of just forgot about it and moved on.”

Shady Side Academy similarly turned the page from last season, when injuries to several of its top players, including Moore, helped lead to the winless record.

DiNardo said the experience gained last season by underclassmen, plus the return of Moore and the addition of the Tomlins, have helped Shady Side get off to its improved start.

“Last year was a great learning experience, if nothing else, for our guys,” he said. “ … (They) really, really understand what it's like now and what's expected of them on Friday nights. They've grown up a little bit, and they're making plays.”

Friday marks the first of six straight conference games to close the season for Freeport, so crunch time begins now.

“Every conference game's a playoff game, and in order to be in the playoffs, you've got to do well in your conference,” Gaillot said. “That's what we're focusing on.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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