Running back Lionel Deanes helps Seton LaSalle roll past Freeport in opener
Freeport's defense got off to the start it wanted Friday night. Then the Train started rolling.
Lionel Deanes rushed for 282 yards and five touchdowns, leading No. 3 Seton LaSalle to a 35-18 victory over Freeport in a WPIAL Class 3A first-round game Friday night at Dormont Stadium.
"Train," as Deanes is known, got dropped in the end zone for a safety on his first carry of the night. Then it was full speed ahead.
"I learned to have short-term memory, so I didn't let the safety get to me," said Deanes, who surpassed 5,000 career yards. "I didn't let it get to the team. I made sure the team kept their head up. ... (You've) just got to have a short-term memory and play every play like it's your last."
The 5-foot-7, 185-pound Deanes showcased speed and power, scoring on runs of 17, 4 and 17 yards in the first half and 37 and 25 yards in the third quarter against Freeport's typically stingy defense, which entered the night allowing just over 12 points per game.
"He has a low center of gravity, and he's just powerful," Freeport coach John Gaillot said. "He's the real deal. He has 5,000 career yards, and when you watch him play, you know why."
Seton LaSalle (9-1), which advanced to play No. 2 Quaker Valley in the WPIAL semifinals, made sure its rematch against Allegheny Conference opponent Freeport ended in the same fashion as the Rebels' 21-10 Week 7 victory.
In that first meeting, Seton LaSalle rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to win. This one wasn't in much doubt, even after Freeport (7-3) took an early 2-0 lead on the safety, as Seton LaSalle scored the next 35 points.
"We came in prepared because we know rematches are always the toughest, especially for the team that won before," Deanes said. "So we knew the rematch was going to be tough. We came in thinking it was going to be tough. We fought hard and did what we were supposed to do, executed on the plays we were supposed to and did our job."
While Seton LaSalle pounded away on the ground — the Rebels didn't complete a pass and didn't need to — No. 6 Freeport couldn't find its offensive momentum despite efforts to shake things up with trick plays and personnel changes.
Junior quarterback Austin Romanchak and senior wide receiver Jake Sarver swapped places during the first half. The move worked to some extent — Sarver threw for 167 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to Luke Kennedy, and Romanchak caught six passes for 134 yards — but the Yellowjackets turned the ball over five times.
"That just got us out of trying to control that clock, so we had to start passing the ball more and had some turnovers," Gaillot said.
Seton LaSalle showed the ability to score quickly, twice turning three-play drives into touchdowns in the first half and putting Freeport's more methodical offense into a hole.
Seton LaSalle touchdown in the first quarter pic.twitter.com/Cov9wpEqXd— Trib HS Insider (@TribHSInsider) November 3, 2017
Seton LaSalle turned Freeport's turnovers into 21 points and had three touchdown drives of three plays or fewer.
Nick Vari intercepted two passes, and Dominic Popa added another.
"Definitely the defense stepped up tonight," Seton LaSalle coach Rob Carter said. "They did a good job watching film ... our boys knew what they had to do to get through this game."
Seton LaSalle's second first-quarter touchdown against Freeport pic.twitter.com/vPtbIKBInE— Trib HS Insider (@TribHSInsider) November 3, 2017
After holding serve against Freeport, Seton LaSalle gets its own chance for revenge against Quaker Valley, which beat the Rebels, 42-7, in a Week 8 nonconference matchup.
"It's going to be a good game," Carter said. "I hope we bring a little bit of extra oomph like we didn't bring last time. I hope these boys understand the opportunity they have; we're one game away (from the finals)."
Gaillot praised the work of his senior class, which helped Freeport reach the postseason after missing out in 2016.
"I'm proud of our boys," Gaillot said. "They battled hard. We reached our goal. Our main goal was to make the playoffs, we did that. Seton was a better team than us tonight."
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.