Strong 2nd half defines Freeport football season

Monday, November 29, 2021 | 10:54 AM

It was gut-check time in the locker room following Freeport’s tough 14-3 loss to Class 2A No. 2-ranked Serra Catholic to round out the September schedule. The Yellowjackets had no sting. They were flat, and it showed.

With a 1-3 record, the season could have gone in either direction.

“After we went 1-3, we made some changes in the locker room,” said junior quarterback/running back Ben Lane. “People started stepping up and coaches started to push us a lot harder.

“We starterd to trust each other. After a few games, we just got on a roll.”

Freeport (7-5, 4-1) rolled through the month of October by winning four of its final five games. The Yellowjackets finished second behind eventual No. 2 seed North Catholic in the Class 3A Allegheny Conference.

“I’m so proud of them, from freshman to seniors,” said Freeport coach John Gaillot. “They played as a team. You expect that (every year), and you don’t always get that. Those kids played for each other, and that was nice to see.”

Lane was Freeport’s utility man this season, lining up at running back while also getting some time at quarterback. Lane got his first start at quarterback against conference rival Valley. The Yellowjackets rebounded nicely from the Serra loss with a 33-6 win over the Vikings. Freeport was building momentum.

Lane led Freeport in rushing yards (556) and rushing touchdowns (eight). He also was 46 of 101 passing for 464 yards and three touchdowns.

“Honestly, I like playing quarterback because the ball is in my hands all of the time,” Lane said. “I can control what is happening.”

The Yellowjackets sharpened their stingers with solid wins over East Allegheny and Burrell before falling to North Catholic at home, 33-7.

Freeeport was riding high following its shutout win over Deer Lakes in the regular-season finale. The win secured a first-round home playoff game. Almost as importantly, it punctuated the progress and effort the Freeport defense had made all season.

Senior Andrew Sullivan led Freeport with 119 tackles and 11 sacks. As a unit, the Freeport defense notched 47 total sacks on the season. Junior Zach Clark led the secondary with four interceptions.

“If you look at us on paper, you would wonder how we’re winning games,” Gaillot said. “We were skinny and lanky and (our) kids would show up every game and hit harder and harder as the season went on.”

The Yellowjackets earned the No. 5 seed in the WPIAL Class 3A postsason bracket, and Ambridge was on the menu as their first-round opponent.

Two late Clark touchdowns helped put away Ambridge as Freeport cruised to a 34-6 win. The win set up a playoff rematch with Elizabeth Forward. While the outcome was the same, the game was much different than last season’s 34-20 Freeport loss.

This year, the Yellowjackets had Elizabeth Forward right where they wanted them, but fell short 14-6.

“I felt like we had them. We definitely had them,” Lane said. “We’re evenly matched teams, and I felt like we got the better of them. They know I’m coming back next year.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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