Freeport overcomes injuries, outlasts North Catholic
FREEPORT: It was another Night at the Freeport Improv Friday.
Yellowjackets coach Sam Albert once again had to improvise on defense, mixing and matching players because of injuries.
The necessary strategy worked as Freeport’s defense stopped the North Catholic Trojans on downs twice in the fourth quarter to preserve a 28-14 Allegheny Conference victory at James Swatrz Memorial Field.
Quarterback Luke Westerman ran for two touchdowns and passed for another as the Yellowjackets won their second conference game in three outings. Freeport is 2-3 overall.
North Catholic slipped to 0-3, 1-4.
“We had about four kids playing out of position,” Albert said. “We lose our starting fullback and inside linebacker, another inside linebacker, so were playing with kids who never played linebacker in their life. We were just holding on and hoping, and the kids stepped up.”
Converted tackle Scott Gallagher played particularly well at linebacker, contributing on a number of defensive stops.
Fullback Jon Nicholson sustained an ankle injury on a 14-yard rushing play, his only carry of the game. He also was absent from his inside linebacker position. The senior was on crutches in the second half.
Junior Cody Betush, another linebacker, had his ankle taped but returned to the lineup.
Freeport scored two touchdowns in the first period, cushioning the Yellowjackets from injuries and North Catholic rallies.
After taking the opening kickoff, Freeport drove 68 yards in 15 plays, using more than eight minutes of the first quarter clock. A 21-yard pass to Jake Scott on third down kept the drive alive.
Later in the same series, Westerman skirted right on a fourth down and four, giving the Yellowjackets a first-and-goal at the North Catholic 2. Westerman flipped into the end zone two plays later to put Freeport on the scoreboard.
Three plays after the Freeport kickoff, Scott fielded a punt at his 30 and raced 70 yards to give the Yellowjackets a second touchdown with 2:06 left in the opening period.
North Catholic got back into the game early in the second quarter as a 33-yard run by Andy Hobarich on a reverse gave the Trojans possession at the Freeport 14. Tailback Aaron Bivins scored on a one-yard burst five plays later to cut Freeport’s advantage to 14-7.
North Catholic lost the ball on downs at the Yellowjackets 29 with 1:19 left in the half. But instead of running out the clock, Freeport scored an important touchdown, driving 71 yards in just 27 seconds. After an 18-yard run around left end, Westerman was hit out of bounds, costing North Catholic 15 penalty yards. Two plays later, Westerman scored on a 30-yard keeper over left guard to put Freeport in front, 21-7, at the intermission.
North Catholic alternated running backs Bivins and Andrew Rothert after the second half kickoff, resulting in a 65-yard drive nine plays to make it 21-14 Freeport.
Cory Micholas brought the disappointingly small home crowd to its feet later in the third period, grabbing a pass despite close coverage from Matt Musial for Freeport’s final score.
“We’re starting to pull together a lot, everyone’s doing the job,” Westerman said.”We jumped out early on them. Our defense really picked it up in the second half.”
Sophomore Jordan Kemp’s sack of Joe DeMarco with less than six minutes to go in the game forced the Trojans into a fourth-and-21 from the Freeport 36. But tNorth Catholic came up empty on the 15th play of the drive as a pass toward the goal line fell incomplete.
“This was Jordan’s second game, and he brings a lot, defensively,” Albert said. “His brother, Terrell, ran hard the whole game.”
Freeport’s offense amassed 234 yards to North Catholic’s 222.
“I’m proud of our kids for not quitting with those injuries,” Albert said. “We don’t have the numbers, but our kids hung in there and played a pretty good game.”
Freeport will play host to Apollo-Ridge in a key conference matchup Friday at 7:30 p.m.