Defense leads the way for Freeport as Yellowjackets top Burrell to clinch playoff spot

Friday, October 15, 2021 | 10:26 PM

Freeport’s calling card for many years has been defense.

And 2021 is no different.

The Yellowjackets clinched the school’s 31st WPIAL playoff berth Friday night with another solid defensive effort, allowing just an 8-yard Burrell touchdown drive en route to a 42-9 victory at Buccaneer Stadium.

The defense constantly put the Yellowjackets offense in favorable field position, starting four drives in Burrell territory. On three other occasions, kicker Vinnie Clark forced Burrell into touchbacks.

Even the second-string defense was stingy late in the game. After the Bucs returned a punt return to the Freeport 25, the reserves tackled Burrell for losses on three consecutive plays to prevent any further Bucs scoring.

The Yellowjackets are now 3-0 in conference play, 4-3 overall. Freeport is ½-game behind North Catholic in the Allegheny 7 Conference and host the Trojans to Freeport Area Athletic Stadium next Friday.

The biggest play from scrimmage for Burrell was a 28-yard run by Caden DiCaprio in the second quarter.

“They had the one long run when we had a breakdown, but I’m very, very pleased with the way our defense played tonight,” said Yellowjackets coach John Gaillot. “I’m just really proud of how our kids fought.”

Quarterback Ben Lane scored three first half touchdowns on runs of 6, 8 and 5 yards as Freeport built a 21-9 lead at the half.

Lane’s first two touchdowns were on drives of just 40 and 42 yards, with Lane leaping past Burrell defenders into the end zone for the second score.

The Bucs then were stopped at the Freeport 12, and Ethan Croushore booted a 29-yard field goal to get Burrell on the scoreboard.

Two plays later, an interception by sophomore Cooper Hornack gave the Bucs the ball at the Yellowjackets 8, setting up a 2-yard run by DiCaprio to cut the Freeport lead to 14-9.

Cooper’s father, Tom, once intercepted five passes in a 1986 game against New Brighton, then a WPIAL record.

“I give Freeport a lot of credit,” Burrell coach Shawn Liotta said. “They came out and stymied us on our first couple drives. They’re physical and did a really nice job and got us in a hole. But to our kids’ credit, we rallied and made it a ballgame.”

Freeport scored on its first two second-half possessions, both set up by returns. The second was a 48-yard punt return from Vinnie Clark to the Burrell 6, setting up a run on a pitch right to Garrett King, making it 35-9.

“I think our coaches just put together a good gameplan for us every week,” said outside linebacker Andrew Sullivan. “Everyone puts their all into every play.”

Said Liotta: “They came out and took back control of the game in the second half. My kids played hard, and I can’t fault them. We’re moving on to Derry.”

Indeed, with just a 1-3 conference mark and 1-7 overall, Burrell still can finish in fourth place in the conference and make the playoffs with victories at Derry and at home Oct. 29 against Valley.”

DiCaprio finished with 90 yards rushing in 24 attempts, giving him 796 yards on the season.

Freeport has played one fewer conference game than North Catholic because Derry had to opt out of a game because of covid concerns, and it was declared a no contest.

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