Freeport, Keystone Oaks playing for playoff berth in Allegheny Conference

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 | 4:48 PM

Freeport's John Gaillot reiterates the philosophy each week that every Allegheny Conference game is a playoff game.

He did the same Tuesday as his Yellowjackets continued to prepare for their game Friday against Keystone Oaks.

This matchup has an added layer as a playoff-qualifier game, as the winner will earn a spot in the WPIAL Class 3A postseason.

For 10 years, every play we treat as a playoff game,” Gaillot said. “We don't look ahead, and the kids understand that. It's second nature to them now.”

Given the state of Class 3A, no team can afford to look ahead. Each of the classification's three conferences receives two automatic playoff berths, with two wild cards also available.

Seton LaSalle clinched the Allegheny's first playoff berth last week after beating Freeport, leaving the Yellowjackets and Keystone Oaks tied for second and ostensibly battling for the same spot.

“We both have one conference loss now, so we're both going to consider this a playoff game,” Keystone Oaks coach Greg Perry said. “You have to go into it with that mentality, and if you happen to come out on the bottom of it, you have to hope for something else to happen. You don't want to put yourself into that situation … going into Week 9 with a question mark.”

Last season's “unlucky” Class 3A teams included Beaver, which fell from first place in its conference to out of the playoffs entirely in the final week of the season, and Valley, which missed out on the postseason because of a point-differential tiebreaker.

“We're all really excited because there's a big playoff implement on there, and if we win, we're in,” Freeport senior Jake Sarver said. “We have to win the next week, but if we win this one, it's very important for us.”

Keystone Oaks won the Allegheny Conference championship and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals last season.

However, the Golden Eagles had questions coming into the season after losing 13 seniors, including star quarterback Alex Smith, a Duquesne recruit, and wide receivers Nick Hrivnak (Washington & Jefferson) and Quran Powe (IUP).

The Golden Eagles (5-2, 4-1) picked up mostly where they left off, with freshman Logan Shrubb taking over at quarterback and complemented by a strong running game led by Michael Daure and stingy defense.

“We're excited to be in the position to be playing in a big game,” Perry said. “We lost a lot of experience last year, and we're starting a lot of underclassmen. If you're playing in a big game, it means you're doing OK because if you're not very good, you're not getting in very many big games. We're excited for the opportunity.”

Keystone Oaks' season brings back some memories of Freeport last season, when the Yellowjackets won four of their first five games with an inexperienced lineup. This year's group is trying to avoid the 2016 ending of four straight losses.

With that in mind, Freeport (5-2, 4-1) is working this week to get past its Week 7 loss to Seton LaSalle, when a three-point lead slipped away in the fourth quarter.

“It's water under the bridge,” Sarver said. “We don't really like to focus on last week. It's a new week for us, a fresh start, and we just want to get the win.

“ … It's more of a next-play mentality, (or) in this case a next-week mentality, looking forward to this game.”

Turnovers and missed opportunities hampered Freeport against Seton LaSalle, something Gaillot said the Yellowjackets can't afford to repeat going into another difficult matchup.

“Their defense is very solid,” Gaillot said. “They're very hard to run against. They're very aggressive and well-coached. Their coach does a great job. It's going to be a battle. It's going to be very difficult to put points up and also to try to stop their offense. We have to bring our best game.”

Perry said he expects a battle between two teams with a single motivation: making the playoffs.

“It's a game that has a lot of meaning for the both of us,” Perry said. “I think we're going to get their best shot, and I hope we can give them our best shot.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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