By REID TUCKER
Big plays were the order of the night as Freeport put the wraps on the regular season with a 40-21 victory on Rocky Bayou’s home field.
The Bulldogs (5-5 on the season) made equally devastating use of both the pass play and special teams on Friday, Nov. 9. Quarterback Gabe Moore hit his receivers for three scores from a minimum of 37 yards out, while Owen Cole returned two kickoffs 88 yards and 72 yards for touchdowns. Nick Russell also sprinted 74 yards for a TD in what seemed almost normal by comparison.
All-in-all, Freeport had 100 more passing yards (297 versus Rocky Bayou’s 197), but had possession of the ball nearly 10 minutes less and rushed 122 fewer yards than did the Knights. Moore completed 11-of-12 passes for 216 yards and he for 39 yards on three carries, while Nick Russell led the Bulldogs’ running game, racking up 90 rushing yards on just four carries. It was also a stellar night for Joseph Scarpaci and Morgan Hardee, who, alongside Cole, had receiving yards of 98, 76 and 63, respectively.
Rocky Bayou didn’t take the loss lying down, though. Quarterback Tyler Paskell kept the ball moving steadily downfield, completing 16-of-32 passes for 197 yards, and junior running back Levi Derry turned in a spectacular performance with three touchdowns and 25 carries for 202 yards, making him just the second player to break 1,000 rushing yards in the school’s history. Freeport coach Jim Anderson said the game against Rocky Bayou, which saw the Knights resurge in the second half, was further proof of this year’s challenging schedule – one that now sees the Bulldogs head to the playoffs with a .500 record.
“This was by far the toughest schedule we’ve ever played since I’ve been [at Freeport],” Anderson said. “We went 5-5 not playing against patsies. We had some injuries and played some really good teams. We’re 5-5 but we’re in the playoffs, so that’s the key. Like I told the kids, whether we’re 10-0, 5-5 or 2-8, we’re in the playoffs, we’re in the hunt. We’ve got to keep doing a good job.”
Freeport forced Rocky to punt and then scored on its first possession, when Moore hooked up with Cole on a 59-yard pass to the end zone just about two minutes into the game. The Bulldogs scored again roughly four minutes later on another pass, this one to Scarpaci from 39 yards out, which Moore followed up with an extra point kick. Rocky’s next drive was shaping up to be a good one, but Hardee leapt to intercept a pass from Paskell on the 31-yard line, though Freeport soon coughed up the ball with its sole interception of the night, leaving the score at 13-0 by the first quarter’s end.
The Knights got on the scoreboard soon after the start of the second quarter when Derry burst up the middle for a 10-yard running strike to cap off a 14-play drive starting before the end of the last period. However, Freeport needed just four plays and less than a minute to score again, as Hardee came up with a 37-yard pass from Moore, who also put the point after kick between the posts to make it a 20-6 game. The Bulldogs scored one more time before the end of the half, when, after forcing Rocky to turnover on downs on the Freeport 18, Russell broke away from the pack on his 74-yard run for the 27-6 touchdown.
The Bulldogs stuck again immediately after the start of Q3 with Cole proving his kickoff return prowess, sprinting 88 yards all over the field to the E-Z. Rocky failed to convert once more, but then so did the Bulldogs, who had by this time put in mostly younger players such as Dillon Bates, who, went 2-of-6 for 22 passing yards as quarterback. The quarter came to a close with Cole picking off yet another Paskell pass with 32.9 seconds remaining in the period.
The Rocky Bayou defense halted Freeport’s advance from the 15 and forced a second turnover on downs, resulting in another Derry touchdown 13 plays later to make it a 34-13 game with 5:38 left on the clock. Immediately thereafter, Cole once again sprinted for a kickoff return touchdown, this time from 72 yards out, which ended up being Freeport’s final score of the night. The Knights scored their final touchdown less than a minute later, with Derry turning on the afterburners for a 45-yard scoring run, giving Freeport, who turned the ball over on the next possession, the 40-21 victory.
The win propelled Freeport into the postseason, which begins Friday on the road in Graceville, where the Bulldogs will face the Tigers for the third time since May. Freeport coach Jim Anderson said Graceville, which just came off a seven-game winning streak, will be well-prepared and hungry to snatch up a victory should the Bulldogs not bring their A-game.
“They’re talented and they have multiple state championships in their background so they know how to win,” Anderson said. “With the game being at their place again we’ll have to play our very best if we want to win.”