By BLAKE MCCORMICK
Call ’em the bounce-back Bulldogs. For the third time this season Freeport rebounded from a tough loss with a big win. This time, a 42-8 destruction of district foe Bozeman, in a game that was as good as over before the first quarter even ended.
“They put 60 on us last year, so, we wanted to come out and play well offensively and defensively,” said Freeport Head Football Coach Jim Anderson, after his team’s fifth win of the season. “The key is turnovers. We did a better job of holding on to the ball than Bozeman did. We tell our guys all the time, the whole game is not in one big piece, it’s little things:holding onto the ball, no dumb penalties. We got a whole list. We call them the Bulldog Laws. Things that we want to do well or avoid in order to be successful. We can’t control the scoreboard but we can control those little things that have a big effect on the scoreboard.”
Freeport’s offense scored on their first five possessions while the defensive crew forced four turnovers that all led to eventual Freeport touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Shaun Arntz was happy about a lot of things from Friday, but none more than the fact that so many young players saw action in the second half of the conquest.
“It was great that everybody got significant playing time and experience,” said the former Freeport player, who has been an assistant the last nine years. “That’s irreplaceable for our young guys. We brought up 11 guys from the junior varsity and they deserved that time under the Friday night lights.”
Freeport received the opening kickoff at their own 37-yard line. Running back Zack Seay and Preston Cooke alternated tough runs with quarterback Zack Johnson capping the 12-play, 63-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown run with 5:57 left in the first quarter. Bozeman got called for offsides on the extra point attempt which moved the ball closer to the goalline. Freeport then elected to go for two and Seay plowed in to make the score 8-0.
Bozeman took over at their 35-yard line, but on the Bucks’ first offensive play, Freeport defensive lineman Bryce McBrayer bust through the visitor’s offensive front and disrupted the hand-off attempt, creating a fumble that he recovered at Bozeman’s 35-yard line. The hometown Bulldogs scored three plays later when Seay exploded through a nice hole created by the offensive line, en route to a 31-yard touchdown with 5:34 remaining in the opening quarter, putting the Bulldogs up 15-0.
Bozeman’s offense returned with the ball at the 25-yard line and procured their only first down of the quarter. That didn’t help much as Bailey Miller made a tackle for a loss that set up a third-and-13 attempt for the struggling Bozeman offense. A short pass attempt was bobbled by a Bucks player and Cameron Hardee grabbed the ball out of the air for an interception at the Bucks’ 35-yard line. Graced with a short field thanks to Willie Sand’s defense, Johnson and company capitalized quickly. Weston Bates ran a 13-yard reverse down to the 22-yard line. Two plays later, Johnson took off on a 22-yard scamper, his second touchdown of the night, that gave the Bulldogs a mountainous 21-0 lead with 2:49 still remaining in the first quarter.
The ailing visitors from Sand Hills couldn’t move the ball when they got possession back at their own 18-yard line and were forced to punt. The punt was bungled and went only nine yards to the Bucks 27-yard line. Seay appeared to score a 31-yard touchdown run on the second play of the Bulldogs’ next drive, but it was called back due to a penalty. Two plays later, Johnson threw a perfect pass down the visitors’ sideline that Dylan Lewis caught in stride despite being covered decently by a defender, and he took the ball into the endzone for a 35-yard touchdown that gave the home team a resounding 28-0 lead with 11:04 still remaining in the half.
The helpless Bozeman offense took possession at their 25-yard line. Three plays later, Dylan Lewis intercepted a pass at the Bulldog 45. After a penalty set Johnson back to his 40, the junior connected with Hardee on a short strike that the receiver turned into a 30-yard gain. Seay had an 8-yard run, followed by a 9-yard gain by Johnson, then an 11-yard pass to Bates to the 2-yard line. Seay polished off the 5-play, 55-yard drive with a 2-yard plunge into the endzone, enhancing the Bulldog lead to 35-0 with 7:33 left in the half. Bozeman would go three-and-out on their next possession and Freeport would be forced to punt for the first time when their offense came back on the field.
The play of the game would come on Bozeman’s subsequent offensive drive. From their own 16-yard line, the Bucks attempted a screen pass only to see fan favorite Junior Carswell intercept the ball behind the line of scrimmage and return it 12 yards for a touchdown, sending the Freeport sideline into celebratory pandemonium as the score reached 42-0 and remained that way for the remainder of the game.
The huge lead forced the running clock Mercy Rule to be implemented and allowed Freeport to clear the bench and let the young pups play. Bozeman would spoil the Bulldogs’ hope of a shut-out by connecting on a 31-yard touchdown pass on the last offensive play of the game. A two-point conversion was converted as the clock wound down to zero for the 42-8 margin.
Freeport (5-3) will play the Port St. Joe Sharks (4-3), who have competed in the last two state championship games, Friday at 7 p.m. The game will mark the last home game for the 12 Freeport seniors who will be honored before the game.