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After losing Week 1 games, Freeport, Ford City need victories to keep pace

| Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, 1:26 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Freeport running back Steven Lassinger runs away from Kittanning linebacker Nick Croyle during the first half on Friday night at James Shwartz Memorial Field in Freeport, August, 30, 2013.

While it might be too soon for must-win games, Freeport and Ford City both need to get things moving in the right direction.

It's a rare season that neither the Yellowjackets nor the Sabers are involved in the Allegheny Conference title mix, but both teams face the prospect of starting the year with two conference losses when they meet Friday in Freeport.

The Sabers (0-1, 0-1) are coming off a 21-0 shutout loss at home at the hands of conference favorite Shady Side Academy. The Yellowjackets (0-1, 0-1) had their own home opener spoiled by Kittanning, which ran its way to a 40-14 win.

Though both teams' coaches are putting an emphasis on improvement over last week, both also know the value of not starting out in an 0-2 hole.

“We've got a young group, and we're just talking about bouncing back,” Ford City coach John Bartolovic said. “With the way we hung in there (against Shady Side Academy), I think our kids will do that because they see the improvement we've already made since the first scrimmage.”

“We played the second half well (against Kittanning), but for most of the first half, we looked like deer in headlights,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “Our goal is to build on that second half and keep going from there.”

Both teams had their running games stifled in Week 1, but the edge in terms of health this week is swinging toward Ford City.

Senior running back Chantz Schrecengost ran for 54 yards in the Sabers' opener, but the team played without junior fullback Garrett Virostek and senior running back August Mantini. Sophomore fullback Hermie Rush filled in well with 43 yards, but Bartolovic expects to have all his veteran backs available Friday.

“We started with two ninth graders and three 10th graders out there,” Bartolovic said. “Usually I'd never do that, but I thought we improved tremendously and, under the circumstances, played pretty well.”

Freeport, on the other hand, will be without starting running back Josh Brestensky after the senior was taken down awkwardly in the first quarter against Kittanning. Gaillot said the injury to Brestensky's knee was not as serious as initially feared, but that the senior would be out for at least a month.

That puts the offense in the hands of receiver/running back Steven Lassinger, who had 42 yards and a score last week, and junior quarterback Andrew Romanchak, who was impressive against constant pressure from Kittanning.

“(Romanchak) is a very poised kid who doesn't get rattled,” Gaillot said. “He threw one pick where the receiver broke off the route, but other than that, he ran well, scrambled well and did a lot of positive things.”

Bartolovic said he was happy with the play of his defense last week and hopes the group turns out another physical performance. That physicality is exactly what Freeport is preparing for during practice this week.

“Coach (Bartolovic) is a heck of a coach, and those kids are physical and punch you in the mouth out there,” Gaillot said. “I think a lot of our kids hadn't seen that until (last) Friday. They hadn't seen game-time speed, and Ford City is very aggressive on the ball like Kittanning was.”

Gaillot said he wondered how his inexperienced players would continue to adjust to varsity speed, and that same thought was on Bartolovic's mind.

Because of the number of young players in action, the difference Friday night might be which team makes the biggest leap from Week 1 to Week 2.

“When you're young, you tend to have more opening-game jitters and a few mistakes,” Bartolovic said. “We just have to improve on the things we didn't do well last week.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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