Last year's upset loss in first round motivates Freeport
The slogan for Freeport football's 2012 season — the one that ultimately appeared on the seniors' group photo — first emerged when the Yellowjackets' current seniors returned to the weight room last winter.
Just a few weeks removed from a 33-26 first-round upset loss to No. 13 seed Ellwood City in which they allowed 22 fourth-quarter points, the players spoke of “unfinished business.”
Cue the light bulb.
“We felt we left something on the table with that loss,” said senior quarterback Brendan Lynch, a third-year starter. “We felt we had more to give.”
This season, Freeport went 7-2 overall and shared an Allegheny Conference title, just as it did in 2011. On Friday at nearby Highlands, the opportunity for the No. 7 seed Yellowjackets to separate from last season's path arrives, as they meet No. 10 Beaver Falls (7-2), another opponent from the vaunted Midwestern Conference.
“We still have that bad taste in our mouths from walking off the field last year after that loss,” Lynch said. “We don't want to look past anyone this time.”
Freeport's seniors understand the dangers of preconceived notions about opponents. As sophomores, many contributed to a 30-22 upset of No. 6 Jeannette — the playoff win was Freeport's first since 2002.
Last season, the Yellowjackets went into the first round with aspirations of advancing even further. They drew Ellwood City, a 6-3 team that placed fourth in the Midwestern Conference. Confidence ran high.
“We thought it'd definitely be a tough game, but we thought we'd win,” Lynch said.
The first quarter failed to dampen Freeport's optimism. On the Yellowjackets' first play from scrimmage, Lynch ran 75 yards for a touchdown. By halftime, Freeport led, 19-11, and that margin increased to 26-11 after three quarters.
But Ellwood City refused to fade. Instead, it rallied with a run sparked by a 70-yard halfback pass.
“We were so young last year — we only had three returning starters,” coach John Gaillot said. “We jumped out to a big lead and we didn't know how to play with a big lead. They hit a couple trick plays and got right back in it, and it was almost like we were never in that position, so the nerves kind of got to them. But we should be ready this year.”
Beaver Falls possesses plenty of big-play potential, so Freeport might need to worry just as much about not falling behind early. Quarterback Dan Stratton, a 1,100-yard passer, has averaged more than 20 yards per completion.
Freeport will look to control the clock with its recently adopted shotgun zone-fly offense, which has produced almost 2,200 rushing yards.
The Yellowjackets believe they're prepared for any scenario. And after seeing the misery on the faces of last season's seniors, they're motivated to avoid a first-round upset, something Freeport failed to do the past three times it had the higher seed.
“We know we're capable of winning it,” senior defensive lineman Brian Welsh said. “(Last year) was one of the worst feelings of my life. We don't want to feel that way again.
“I just remember watching the seniors walk off our field after the last game of their careers. It was hard enough to watch them.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303.