By REID TUCKER
Freeport scored four of its five touchdowns in the first quarter of the Region 1-A semifinal game, rolling on a 32-18 win against Vernon.
Freeport’s main weapon on the night of Nov. 18 was quarterback Gabe Moore, who broke loose to run 59 yards to the end zone on the second play of the game, giving the Dogs the 7-0 advantage after he made the point-after kick. Moore connected with Brandon Head to enable a 46-yard touchdown run two plays into Freeport’s next possession. He also scored Freeport’s last TD, a 22-yard keeper run. Overall, Freeport (8-3) accounted for 327 yards of total offense – 119 more than the Yellow Jackets – and Moore contributed the majority of it as he ran for 135 yards on nine carries and passed for 136 on eight completions in 16 tries.
Both teams struck quickly in the first quarter, scoring a touchdown apiece with 10:44 still to play in the period, then saw their offenses drop off as the game went on. Vernon (4-7) went on to add another touchdown by end of the quarter, though neither side added points to the board in the entire second quarter. The Bulldogs didn’t put up another touchdown until 3:15 to go in the third quarter and Vernon finished with a final touchdown 15 seconds into the final period.
If Freeport coach Jim Anderson had to make a complaint about the game it was that the Bulldogs had some trouble capitalizing on interceptions, fumbles and a couple trips to Vernon’s goal line. Nevertheless, he was proud of his team and glad to get the win “whether by 14 points or by one point.” Those rapid-fire touchdowns in the first-quarter are always good, he said, but the real key to winning tough games is the ability to put away an opponent when you’ve got the advantage.
“We knew we were capable of doing it,” Anderson said. “We had some big plays. We just have to maintain it. We can’t just do this for one quarter. We had the chance to really put the nail in the coffin.”
After Moore’s introductory scoring run, the Jackets retaliated with a 61-yard touchdown run by secondary quarterback Hunter Dobbs 16 seconds later. The extra point kick went wide left and Freeport led 7-6, though Moore and Head quickly added another touchdown about a minute and a half later to make it a 14-6 lead for the Bulldogs.
Freeport forced a turnover on downs on the Yellow Jackets’ next possession, then marched 56 yards downfield on eight plays for another touchdown, this time on a 27-yard run from Jordan Varner with 2:35 to go. Vernon burned up most of the rest of the quarter on a five-play drive but got a touchdown for its effort as Dobbs completed a 27-yard pass from Dylan Kirk, the more throwing-oriented of the Jackets’ quarterbacks. Though only 14.4 seconds remained in the quarter that was all Owen Cole needed to run 72 yards for a fourth Freeport touchdown, giving the Bulldogs a 26-12 lead after the buzzer sounded on the end of an explosive first period.
Both teams’ guns went silent in the second quarter, though Head did intercept a pass from Dobbs on the 20 after one-minute-fifteen. Cole ran just short of the end zone on the next play but fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Vernon on the 3-yard line. Though Freeport’s Nick Russell (who led the team with four tackles for losses) got in a good sack for another turnover on downs against the Yellow Jackets, a pass from Moore was intercepted on the 16-yard line. However, even another Vernon fumble recovered by Freeport failed to lead to an increase in the Bulldogs’ score as they made it no further than the 25 with seven seconds to go before the half.
Vernon and Freeport each took turns punting on their first possessions of the third quarter and the Bulldogs picked off another pass from Kirk, this time on the 36-yard line with 5:49 to go. James Leogrande (11 carries for 50 yards), Caleb McCormick (one carry for 27 yards), Cole (three carries for 90 yards) and Moore all touched the ball before Moore put the ball in the end zone for the final time. He kept the ball and made a 22-yard run from one side of the field to the other, shucking Vernon tackles at every turn, to score Freeport’s last TD of the night, for a 32-12 lead.
The Jackets used up the remainder of the third quarter to get into scoring position at the start of the fourth. Dobbs made a 10-yard break for the end zone and scored Vernon’s final TD of the evening. An attempt at a two-point conversion was stopped. The score remained at 32-18 for the rest of the contest, though a short 5-yard pass from Moore late in the period could have been another Freeport touchdown had a penalty not nullified the score.
With the win over District 2 champ Vernon, Freeport is set to take on reigning District 1 titleholder Northview in a post-Thanksgiving rematch. The Bulldogs and Chiefs faced off at Freeport to decide last year’s regional championship, with Northview coming out on top at 21-12. Furthermore, Northview overcame the Dogs in the regular season by a score of 35-21, all of which factors into Anderson’s eagerness to have a go at some payback come Black Friday.
“We want another shot at them,” he said. “They’re great. They’re giants. We’re going to have to battle, battle, battle.”