Shady Side outlasts Freeport in Class 3A Allegheny 6 Conference opener

Friday, September 29, 2023 | 10:34 PM

The Class 3A Allegheny 6 Conference was one of two in the WPIAL to have none of its teams play a conference game before Friday night.

Shady Side Academy and Freeport hoped to get off to a winning start in conference action after five nonconference contests to start the season.

Shady Side Academy scored with a little more than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and held off one last Freeport push to earn a 31-28 victory at Freeport Area Athletic Stadium.

“Our kids were able to focus and execute own the stretch,” Bulldogs coach Chuck DiNardo said. “This was a great win for us. It’s a great feeling to start 1-0 in the conference. At the same time, it’s just one game and one win. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re going to come in (Saturday) and look for ways to get better because we understand we have a very good Knoch team (5-1, 1-0) coming up next week. We have to be able to learn from this win and continue to grow.”

The winning points with 10 minutes, 34 seconds left came on a 16-yard connection from sophomore quarterback Devin Harris to senior Carter Simko. The big play of the quick drive was an elusive 40-yard run by Harris, where he weaved his way out of several perilous situations.

“That was just a huge response after they had scored,” DiNardo said.

Freeport then went on its longest drive of the game and made it to the Shady Side 28 with less than four minutes remaining. However, Yellowjackets quarterback Drew Ross was picked off by Deacon Durham on fourth-and-10.

Freeport got the ball back with 2:22 to play, but Ross was intercepted again, this time by Simko at the Yellowjackets 28.

Freeport (2-4, 0-1) again got the ball back, but this time it had just 23 seconds to work with. Ross and the Yellowjackets offense ran three plays in that time but were not able to generate anything before time ran out.

“I am so proud of the kids,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “We’re walking back here with our freshman and sophomores who played a great deal. They really grew, as did the rest of the guys on this team. They played their hearts out. Not many people gave us a shot in this game, and we were right there until the end. We continued to fight, and the guys never quit from the first snap to the last.”

Shady Side Academy (4-2, 1-0) extended a three-point halftime lead to 10 with some special-teams magic. Vito Barravecchio blocked a Freeport punt. Simko picked up the loose ball at the 3 and took it in for the score with 8:24 left in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs got the ball back on a punt and hoped to put more distance between them and the Yellowjackets, but Freeport defensive lineman Isaac Woods had other ideas.

A tipped pass from Harris landed in Woods’ hands. He rambled 40 yards, running over two Bulldogs defenders, and ended up in the end zone for the score.

A Ross 1-yard keeper on the first play of the fourth quarter gave Freeport a 28-24 lead and a whole lot of energy.

But it was Shady Side’s night and victory.

“We had a rough third quarter, and the momentum started to shift,” DiNardo said. “But our kids really showed some resiliency. We had that next-play mentality, and that ended up being really big on both sides of the ball.”

Harris finished 13 of 25 for 180 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Ross was 14 of 29 for 230 yards, two passing scores and four interceptions.

Freeport’s Brady Sullivan led all receivers with six catches for 125 yards.

SSA 6-foot-3 freshman Carter Bonner, who owns a scholarship offer from Pitt, led the Bulldogs with five catches for 61 yards.

Shady Side struck first with 2:26 left in the first quarter as Simko used a shotgun keeper to ramble 18 yards to the end zone. Harran Zureikat booted the point-after, and the Bulldogs led 7-0.

Freeport responded early in the second quarter as Ross found Cyp Sellinger in stride for a 31-yard touchdown. Judah Thompson added the PAT, and the score was tied 7-7.

It didn’t take Shady Side long to regain the lead as Harris connected with Durham for 31 yards just 1:40 after Freeport’s score.

After the Yellowjackets’ first TD, they came up empty on their next three possessions. The third one ended when Bonner picked off a Ross pass at the Freeport 33 and returned it to the 7.

The Bulldogs weren’t unable to punch it in, however, and settled for a 22-yard field goal from Zureikat with 50 seconds left on the second-quarter clock.

Freeport didn’t sit on the ball with the time left in the half and gained a pair of first downs to its 45.

On first down, Ross dropped back and found Sullivan down the left side. Sullivan hauled in the pass, broke two tackles and completed the 55-yard scoring play with 3 seconds remaining on the clock.

Thompson’s PAT kick was good, and the Yellowjackets were back in the game as the teams headed to halftime.

“We’re a young team, but these kids gave everything, and that’s all you can ask,” said Gaillot, who will guide his Freeport team into next Friday’s conference battle at East Allegheny (4-2, 1-0).

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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