By REID TUCKER
Freeport defense picked apart Graceville, as the Bulldogs intercepted four passes, recovered three fumbles and stopped two fourth-down conversions on the way to a 34-6 rout of the Tigers.
“The defense did a really fine job,” Freeport coach Jim Anderson said. “They were ready and they really came to play.”
The Bulldogs’ offense came out in a big way as well, with five different players putting touchdowns on the board on Friday, Sept. 30. Freeport (4-1) had 338 yards of total offense, with quarterback Gabe Moore contributing 59 yards through the air on three completions in six attempts and a further 40 yards rushing. Owen Cole led the Bulldogs in rushing, with 129 yards in 17 carries and Brandon Head rushed eight times for 89 yards.
The Tigers (0-4), on the other hand, had 235 total yards on the night (181 rushing, 54 passing) and were led by the trio of Derae Laster (64 yards on 13 carries), Rasheed Campbell (63 yards on 16 carries, 24 yards passing) and Allante Oliver-Barnes (54 yards on 14 carries).
Neither team managed a touchdown in the first quarter, but the Tigers almost made it to the end zone before the tenacious Freeport defense thwarted a fourth- down conversion on the 1-yard line with little time left on the clock. The Bulldogs then made a 13-play march 99 yards down the field to score on a 2-yard run from James Leogrande. With Jordan Varner making good on the point-after kick, the Bulldogs lead 7-0 with 10:46 to go in the half and never looked back from there.
Graceville was forced to punt on the ensuing possession and Freeport struck once more, with Moore hitting Caleb McCormick for a 23-yard gain. Head scored on a 32-yard run up the middle after the next snap, though the extra-point kick went wide left. Freeport’s defense then asserted its primacy over the proceedings when Cole recovered a fumble on Graceville’s first play from scrimmage, though the Bulldogs were unable to put a scoring run together and were forced to punt.
However, McCormick, in his first of two interceptions of the night, picked off a pass from Campbell and returned the ball 44 yards to the Tiger’s 1-yard line. Moore held onto the ball to leap across the goal line, scoring a third Freeport TD and then kicking the extra point to make it a 20-7 lead with 3:27 remaining in the half. Nick Russell snatched up yet another Graceville fumble before the end of the second quarter, though the Bulldogs were prevented from scoring by Graceville’s defense, who forced a punt from the visiting team.
However, Graceville muffed the kickoff return, dropping the ball inside its own 5-yard line, with Hunter Bailey coming up with the recovery on the 2. Cole looped around the outside to score on the goal-to-go with 1:40 remaining. The extra point try was good and Freeport led by a 27-0 deficit at the half’s closing.
McCormick got his second interception when he picked off Campbell’s first pass of the third quarter. Moore made the most of the turnover and three plays later connected with David Bartlett, who bounced off a Graceville tackler to score on a 32-yard run down the right sideline to the end zone.
Graceville at last got a touchdown a little less than a minute into the final period following a 29-yard Laster punt return, which he followed with a 10-yard scoring run less than five plays later. The two-point conversion attempt was no good and the Tigers trailed 34-6, where the score would remain for the duration of the contest.
However, it may not have ended that way, as Oliver-Barnes stripped the ball from Head in Freeport’s next possession, running the ball 69 yards downfield to the Bulldogs’ 1-yard line. A personal foul penalty called back the line of scrimmage to the 5, which was enough breathing room Freeport’s d-line to stop the Tigers on a fourth-and-3 play.
Freeport sophomore Morgan Hardee got Freeport’s last interception of the night and pitched the ball back to Cole, who ran the ball 15 yards to the Graceville 35. The Bulldogs elected to run out the clock from there on, as only 16.9 seconds remained on the clock.
Anderson said he was happy to tack another win on Freeport’s running tally but penalties incurred by the offense had him worried about the upcoming district game against the always-tough Baker. Freeport felled the Gators after an intense 42-34 battle to claim the team’s second straight district title. Anderson said the several penalties, few missed blocks and single turnover in the game against Graceville won’t fly against Baker.
“If we have all those penalties like that and missed blocks and just the general chaos like we had at times during the game, we won’t even come close to beating Baker next week,” Anderson said. “I was happy that we won, but what we don’t want is for them to just be satisfied because we won even though we had all those mistakes. We’ve got to work hard to eliminate those mistakes.”