Freeport, Seton LaSalle to play for de facto Allegheny Conference crown

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 | 6:42 PM

Only after finishing off a Week 6 victory over Apollo-Ridge did Freeport begin to admit the magnitude of its upcoming game at Seton LaSalle.

Given coach John Gaillot's strict “one game at a time” mentality, the Yellowjackets kept their blinders on, even with a potential battle for Allegheny Conference supremacy looming in the near future.

The time has arrived, with the biggest game of the Allegheny Conference season on the docket, and yet the message remains the same.

“The mentality is Seton LaSalle is this week,” Gaillot said. “The rest of the season, or the first part of the season, the games that we already played, honestly they don't exist right now. And the ones in the future, we don't even want to know who we play next. I don't know what's in their mind, but they seem every week like they're focused on the task ahead. As soon as you look ahead, you start to lose games.”

Freeport and Class 3A No. 2 Seton LaSalle go into Friday's game at Thomas Jefferson as the only remaining unbeaten teams in Allegheny Conference play. A victory for either would go a long way to winning a conference championship with two weeks remaining.

As far as regular-season stakes go, they can't get much higher — especially with only two guaranteed playoff teams from each conference. The team that loses will fall into a battle with Keystone Oaks and Shady Side Academy for the second guaranteed playoff spot, as well as one of Class 3A's two wild card playoff berths.

“It's the type of game anyone wants to be a part of,” Seton LaSalle coach Rob Carter said. “There's a lot of implications on the line in this game: conference title, playoff seeding, pride, everything else. It's a big game, and it's something that as the season builds up, you get this late in the year with two teams unbeaten in conference, something's got to give. That's why you do it.”

That Freeport (5-1, 4-0) and Seton LaSalle (6-0, 5-0) stand as the top teams in the Allegheny comes as little surprise to either coach. Although both teams missed the playoffs last season, they returned the most skill and experience of any of their conference opponents.

“Seton LaSalle is the one we always thought would be the front-runner of our conference,” Gaillot said. “We didn't really know (where we'd be); we just wanted to fight for a chance to be in the playoffs, get back there.”

The game is intriguing beyond its playoff implications, as it matches one of Class 3A's best offensive playmakers against one of its top defensive teams.

Seton LaSalle senior Lionel Deanes ranks second in the WPIAL with 1,277 rushing yards, averaging 8 yards per carry, with 14 rushing touchdowns and another three receiving scores.

“I absolutely love a challenge,” Freeport senior Austin Kemp said. “He's as strong as a bull, so we just have to attack him low. If we attack him high, then he's just going to bounce right off of us.”

Freeport counters with a defense surrendering 6 points per game in conference play and 13.7 overall. Led by linebackers Kemp and Conor Selinger, the Yellowjackets have two shutouts this season; Apollo-Ridge's lone score in last week's 49-7 Freeport victory came in the fourth quarter with the starters out of the game.

“Freeport has a very good defense,” Deanes said. “They are consistent. They have some good athletes on defense. I know it won't be a walk in the park.”

Gaillot knows Deanes has the ability to turn any play into a touchdown, so he's preaching focus to his defense. Seton LaSalle quarterback Matt Banbury offers a dual threat, too.

Likewise, Carter said the Rebels defense needs to slow Freeport quarterback Austin Romanchak and his top playmakers, Selinger at running back and Jake Sarver at receiver.

Given the strengths of both teams, Friday's game — and, ultimately, the conference title — could be determined by the smallest of margins.

“We're definitely ready for it,” Freeport senior Matt Charlton said. “We've been working hard all year for this, especially. It's really going to come down to the wire. I just think all our guys work so hard to get out there and get it done on Friday night.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.


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