Another strong defensive effort leads Freeport past Apollo-Ridge
The phrase emerges on a regular basis at Freeport. Not daily, maybe, but enough that it's becoming ingrained in the Yellowjackets' psyche: “Defense wins championships.”
It's one of sports' most used cliches, sure, but so far it's proving true for Freeport.
The Yellowjackets' latest dominant defensive performance — five forced turnovers, leading to 21 points — propelled them to a 49-7 victory over an undermanned Apollo-Ridge team in a Class 3A Allegheny Conference game Friday night at Freeport Area Athletic Stadium.
“I think we did very good,” said junior Conor Selinger, who returned an interception 70 yards for Freeport's opening touchdown. “We keyed on our guys, and we did our own jobs. That's what our coaches tell us to do. They tell us if we do our jobs, we'll win games.”
Selinger paused and grinned.
“Defense wins championships.”
Perhaps it will.
Freeport stayed unbeaten in Allegheny Conference play and remained a half-game behind Seton LaSalle in the race for the conference title. The Yellowjackets play the Rebels (6-0, 5-0) next week at Thomas Jefferson.
Outside of a nonconference loss to Class 3A No. 1 Aliquippa, Freeport (5-1, 4-0) is allowing six points per game, including a pair of shutouts. Apollo-Ridge's lone touchdown came midway through the fourth quarter, with Freeport leading 42-0 and backups in the game.
By that time, Selinger's score and two others set up by the five takeaways — three interceptions and two fumble recoveries — had Freeport in a comfortable position.
“If you can put it in the end zone, the defense putting points on the board, it's huge,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “I just hope we can continue doing that. It will make me sleep a little easier at night.”
Austin Romanchak rushed for 81 yards and three touchdowns for Freeport and passed for 86 and another score. Selinger added a rushing score, helping the Yellowjackets to a 28-0 halftime lead and 42-0 advantage through three quarters.
Apollo-Ridge was suffering from missing pieces at two of its most important offensive position. Senior quarterback Kyle Fitzroy, sporting a large brace on his right hand, played wide receiver. Leading rusher Logan Harmon, who suffered a leg injury last week against Seton LaSalle, played defense only until the second half.
“We're dealing with things week-in and week-out, but that's what we have and we know that's what we have,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “We just have to face it and actually put our chin (up), get a stiff upper lip and go to work.”
Freshman Jake Fello started at quarterback for the second time in three games for Apollo-Ridge (4-3, 2-3). He threw for 61 yards but tossed three interceptions. Alex Gamble got most of the work at running back, rushing for 47 yards.
“It's what you deal with when you deal with a freshman quarterback that hasn't started a big game,” Skiba said about the turnovers. “Those are the things that happen. We're going to learn a lot.”
Said Gaillot: “They're so well-coached, from coach Skiba on down to every assistant. I have a lot of respect for their program and them as coaches. Apollo will always come ready to play.”
Apollo-Ridge drove into Freeport's territory on its second possession before Fello threw an interception. The Vikings got the ball right back after a Selinger fumble, but Selinger intercepted Fello on third down and weaved his way for his first varsity pick-six.
“It was different because usually I'm in a lot of traffic (when I'm running),” Selinger said. “It felt good being in the open for once.”
Selinger's 5-yard score made it 14-0, and Romanchak added a pair of rushing scores before halftime. Romanchak's 24-yard pass to Garret Schaffhauser and third touchdown run made it 42-0 in the third. Cade Grguric scored a 58-yard touchdown for Apollo-Ridge before Freeport's last touchdown, a Ricky Hunter run.
Freeport's biggest defensive challenge yet in conference play comes next week: a duel with star Seton LaSalle running back Lionel Deanes, one of the WPIAL's top rushers.
“We've been looking forward and planning all year for Seton LaSalle,” Selinger said. “We've got to just keep doing what we're doing, play good defense, execute on offense and see what happens.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.