By REID TUCKER
A hotly contested 41-33 victory on the road against Baker gave Freeport a head start on the race for top spot in the district football standings
The Bulldogs (3-3, 1-0 in District 1-A) came away with the win on Friday, Oct. 5, thanks in large part to an auteur performance from junior quarterback Gabe Moore. Moore showcased the speed and athleticism that made him a nationally ranked high school decathlete, scoring five of Freeport’s six touchdowns, including the game-winning 1-yard vault over a stacked Gators D-line with 1:44 left on the clock. He scored three other TDs on keeper plays and another via a pass to linebacker Nick Russell, and rushed for 90 yards on 12 carries while completing seven of 13 passes for 122 passing yards.
The other Freeport touchdown was scored by its leading rusher, senior running back Owen Cole, who broke away on a 59-yard sprint to the end zone on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage near the start of the third quarter. Cole ran for 102 yards on 11 carries and caught two passes, totaling 50 yards, from Moore, including one for a critical first down seconds into Q4 and another to the 1-yard line at the end of the period, setting up Moore’s final touchdown. He also caught the interception to another scoring run in motion.
The Gators made up for a relative paucity of big plays with sustained drives supplying plenty of pressure on Freeport throughout the contest. Led by quarterback Adam Crowson, DJ Thomas and Richard Stroheker, the Gators put together some truly impressive touchdown runs to tie the game at 7-7, 14-14 and 27-27. Baker blasted through the Freeport defense to take the lead at the start of the third quarter and then again with just 2:39 left in the game before Moore’s last score and an illegal trick play cost the home team the win.
“We had some big plays,” said Freeport head coach Jim Anderson. “Baker did a great job again, just like they always do. They were much more physical than we were and that was disappointing on our part. What was exciting on our part was that our guys rose up did what they had to do when it was time to do it. We got stops when we needed to and scored when we needed to.” Freeport opened up with a score less than two minutes into the game, when Moore turned a third-and-14 situation into a 62 yard dash to the end zone, whereupon he also kicked in the extra point to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. Both teams were forced to punt on their next possessions, but Baker’s second possession of the quarter bore fruit in the form of an eight-play drive for a touchdown and a tie 7-7 ballgame, with Crowson keeping the ball to run in from 28 yards out. Freeport got the ball once more in the period, and retained possession into the second quarter, with Moore hitting Russell (who caught three passes for 54 yards) for a critical first down on the 10, then running in 14 yards for his second touchdown and kick after.
The Gators retaliated with only 38.5 seconds showing on the clock before the end of the half to tie the game 14-all going into halftime. Thomas smashed up the middle to score on a 6-yard run after Baker charged downfield on nine plays.
Crowson put his team ahead by six points soon after the start of the second half on an 18-yard run, though Freeport returned fire immediately thereafter. Cole returned the kickoff to the Bulldogs’ 41-yard line then broke wide left around the Baker D-line to score the aforementioned 59-yard touchdown. The kick was good, giving Freeport a close 21-20 lead at the 9:44 mark of the third quarter.
Cole snatched down a pass from Crowson on Baker’s next possession to give Freeport the ball back on its own 23-yard line with 6:44 remaining in the quarter and from there the Bulldogs were seven plays out of the end zone. Moore floated a 25-yard pass in to Russell with a tick more than three minutes to go in the period, but he missed the point-after kick and so Freeport led 27-20.
The Gators once again evened the score. Shortly into the fourth quarter, after a swift and steady drive at the end of the third, Stroheker put together an 8-yard run for a TD. Malcom Griffith put the kick after between the goalposts to make it a 27-27 game with most of the final quarter to play.
The fourth quarter was by far the most action-packed of the entire game as Freeport and Baker fought almost to the last down to decide the contest. The Bulldogs touched off a 51-yard, 12-play drive with another leaping 1-yard touchdown from Moore to put Freeport up 33-27 with 6:48 left in the game, though he was sacked in the backfield on the 2-point conversion attempt. The Gators’ response was almost instantaneous, as Crowson, who was 4-for-5 in passing on the night, connected with Austin Martin for a 27-yard gain before Thomas busted through the middle of the Bulldog defensive line to score from 3 yards out to give Baker a 1-point lead after the point-after kick.
With just 2:39 showing on the clock Freeport turned what could have been disaster into forward progress when Cole caught a life-or-death 39 yard pass for first and goal. More forced his way past Baker’s defense to score the last TD of the night and Cole ran in for the conversion to seal the deal on Freeport’s 41-34 win.
Baker attempted a fumblerooski on the next, and final, possession, and the ruse initially looked to work in their favor, but the officials called the ball down after Crowson technically “fumbled” it, as the fumblerooski is not allowed in high school competition. Baker turned the ball over on downs on the 32-yard line with 29 seconds remaining. Freeport then took the knee to run out the clock for the win.
Freeport had 328 yards of total offense on the night to Baker’s 309, though the Gators’ running game outshone the Bulldogs’ 268 yards to 193. Crowson rushed for 109 yards on 14 carries and Stroheker gained 90 yards on 13 carries. Thomas earned 53 yards on 16 carries, but most of those were through the thick of Freeport’s D-line.
The Bulldogs get this week off to prepare for what will be arguably their toughest games of the season against district foe Northview and last year’s state runner-up Chipley in coming weeks.