Westerman, Gearhart lead Freeport past Ford City
FORD CITY: Early in the season Ford City has played as efficiently and meticulously as a space shuttle checklist.
Kittanning: 30-16 … check.
Freedom: 35-0 … check.
Freeport: … Houston, we have a problem.
Quarterback Luke Westerman ignited the Freeport offense with four touchdown passes, three of which came in the second half, to blast the Yellowjackets (2-1, 1-0) to a 35-21 win over host Ford City.
“He’s a playmaker and he has the speed to get to the perimeter,” Freeport head coach Sam Albert said of Westerman. “He’s such a leader that, one time when I came into the huddle and he said on this one first down, ‘I’ll get it,’ and when you’ve got a kid that says that, you’ve got a leader.”
One that leads by example.
Westerman was nothing short of brilliant, completing 14-for-20 for 238 yards, four touchdowns and one interception against a suddenly porous Ford City secondary.
“We worked on everything they did, we just did a poor job executing,” Ford City head coach John Bartolovic said. “On defense we didn’t contain, and we weren’t picking the guys. We talked to them about it at halftime and they still didn’t do a very good job.”
While Westerman took care of the passing game, Dennis Gearhart kept the sticks moving on the ground. The senior running back carried 22 times for 108 yards including a 51-yard second-quarter touchdown run.
What helped both players’ effectiveness was a great coaching move by Albert. Instead of bringing his team out in a standard set, he lined up three wide receivers and ran a no-huddle offense to keep Ford City (2-1, 0-1) on its heels.
“We wanted to run them around a little bit because that’s a big, talented football team,” Albert said. “So we figured we’d come out in trips and maybe we’d get them a little confused and maybe get a quick one so we could come back with Gearhart and pound the football.”
Despite operating the game plan to perfection, Freeport was unable to put Ford City away. For the first three quarters the Sabers answered every Yellowjackets scoring thrust with a parry of their own.
Freeport used a similar defensive strategy to what it did in a 27-3 loss to Ford City a year ago. Gearhart, the all-conference defensive tackle, shadowed Sabers fullback Rich Bennett and held the bruising senior to
79 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Bennett, actually, was a non-factor in the second half with only two carries for five yards.
“They’re so talented that, if you take away the fullback, they hit you with the wingbacks and J.J. Bartolovic throws the ball well enough to keep you off balance,” Albert said. “We tried with Denny to mirror the fullback, but we didn’t wat to do that all the time because they’ll hurt you the other way.”
Ford City’s vaunted running game was hampered when speedy wingback Seth Fox went down in the first half with what appeared to be an ankle injury. With Fox on the sideline, Cyril Haponski picked up the slack with 11 carries for 93 yards.
With Ford City trailing 28-21 in the fourth quarter Haponski had a pair of chances to get his team back into the game. Twice J.J. Bartolovic threw deep down the middle for Haponski and both times the ball fell incomplete. The first time Haponski got behind the defense it appeared he looked over the wrong shoulder for the ball, while on the second, the ball hit him in the numbers but was knocked out on a tremendous hit by Freeport defensive back Terrell Kemp.
“I didn’t think we adjusted well on the ball to the throws,” John Bartolovic said. “Some of those throws looked like they were there and people just kept running on the line and didn’t adjust to the ball.”
That wasn’t a problem for Freeport as Westerman got better as the game went on. He was especially effective in the second half, completing 8-of-10 for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including one to tight end Kalvin Carter with 44 seconds remaining that put the game away.
“This was the best game I think I’ve ever played,” Westerman said. “My receivers caught just about everything, they ran good routes, and I just hit them when they were open.”
Which they were most of the night.
“I didn’t think we did a good job with those guys dragging across the middle,” John Bartolovic said. “We just became spectators and didn’t get to the receivers and that’s a tough way to lose.”