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Good as advertised

Freeport's Ben Lane (2) breaks the corner past Belle Vernon defender Anthony Crews in the WPIAL Class 3A foothall semifinal Friday night at Gateway. The Yellowjackets lost, 42-0. Justin Guido/ Special to the Eagle 11/18/22
Powerful Belle Vernon knocks out Freeport, 42-0

MONROEVILLE — In getting Friday night’s WPIAL Class 3A gridiron semifinal underway, Freeport sized up top-seeded Belle Vernon’s offense and saw what all the hype was about.

Unfortunately for the Yellowjackets, their opponent was as good as advertised. Before Freeport could get 10 plays off from scrimmage, it faced a 21-point deficit. It could never gain its footing and bowed to the Leopards, 42-0, at Gateway’s Antimarino Stadium.

“It’s adversity, you have to fight it,” said ‘Jackets running back-defensive back Ben Lane, a 1,000-yard rusher who was limited to 25 yards on the ground on the night. “We didn’t come out as strong as we wanted to. We came out flat. It was hard to come back from that.”

Out of the gate, Freeport opted to kick off and test its strength against an attack that featured junior tailbacks Quinton Martin and Jake Gedekoh, who had combined for nearly 1,500 yards on the ground entering the matchup.

Freeport players embrace after losing to Belle Vernon in the WPIAL Class 3A football championships semifinals Friday night. Justin Guido/ Special to the Eagle 11/18/22

The Leopards began with Gedekoh in the backfield and the highly-touted recruit, Martin, split out wide. Having to account for a pair of capable ball carriers, the ‘Jackets lacked the resources to defend 6-foot-5, 215-pound signal-caller Braden Laux, who took a boot 16 yards to draw first blood.

The ‘Jackets picked up a first down on their first possession, but were forced to punt away.

It then took Belle Vernon five plays to go 76 yards, a march punctuated by a 45-yard score by Martin, who took a screen and slipped a couple of tackles to double his crew’s advantage.

Only 12 ticks went off the clock before that offense was back on the field. A halfback pass gone awry for Freeport’s Brady Stivenson yielded another Martin score a little over three minutes later.

“Our main goal on defense is just to whack kids,” ‘Jackets senior linebacker Jacksen Reiser said.“That’s our game plan … We knew their starting drive is always their best drive. We knew that was going to happen. We just didn’t get that stop on the second or third drive.”

Freeport’s offense, meanwhile, would only pick up three first downs in the initial 24 minutes. From scrimmage, it’d be outgained by 194 yards during that same span.

“We were hoping they would prepare more for the spread,” ‘Jackets coach John Gaillot said. “With athletes like that, you can jump in and out of things real quick … They were just very good up front.”

His team would only muster 60 rushing yards all night.

“We felt, if we could get hands on them, our linebackers should be able to roam free — and they did,” Leopards coach Matt Humbert said. “The speed of our ‘backers was something that was pretty evident tonight.”

The third quarter spelled doom for Freeport. It appeared the offense would finally get something going when Croney found Stivenson for a 36-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage out of the break. Four snaps later, the ‘Jackets turned it over on downs.

Their two possessions that followed began on the Belle Vernon 34 and 28, but ended in a missed field goal and interception, respectively.

Gedekoh scored twice in the final frame and finished with 114 yards on 14 totes. Martin turned in 95 yards on 17 carries and Laux with 63 yards on 10 gives. Laux also found the end zone again in the fourth.

“You just try to eliminate as many threats as possible, but with a team stacked like that, you really can’t,” Gaillot said. “We wanted to put our defense out on the court first. I’d make the same decision again because our kids are usually stellar.”

The defeat, he added, is far from the first thing that will come to mind when he recalls this campaign in the years to come.

“I’m proud of how hard our kids fought all year,” Gaillot said. “There’s a big, long story about how this season unfolded, with all the injuries. All that, how we came back and won the section outright, beat West Mifflin … It’s just phenomenal with what we were able to accomplish when it looked like we might only win four games.”

The Leopards return to Acrisure Stadium for the second year in a row. They’ll play Avonworth, who beat Shady Side Academy, 35-0, next Friday night.

Freeport 0 0 0 0 — 0

Belle Vernon 14 7 0 21 — 42

First Quarter

BV — Braden Laux 16 run (Willie Schwerwa kick), 8:23

BV — Quinton Martin 45 pass from Braden Laux (Schwerwa kick), 3:10

Second Quarter

BV — Martin 26 run (Schwerwa kick), 11:25

Fourth Quarter

BV — Jake Gedekoh 11 run (Schwerwa kick), 11:50

BV — Laux 1 run (Schwerwa kick), 6:53

BV — Gedekoh 20 run (Schwerwa kick), 3:15

Individual Statistics

Rushing: Freeport, Ben Lane 11-25, Zach Clark 6-23, Brady Stivenson 2-12, Taylor King 1-1, Isaac Wetzel 1-0, Colton Otterman 2-0, Gavin Croney 6-(-1). Belle Vernon, Jake Gedekoh 14-114, Quinton Martin 17-95, Braden Laux 10-63.

Passing: Freeport, Gavin Croney 3-16-79-2, Brady Stivenson 0-1-0-1, Drew Ross 0-1-0-1. Belle Vernon, Braden Laux 10-17-133-0.

Receiving: Freeport, Brady Stivenson 1-36, Parker Lucas 1-25, Ben Lane 1-18. Belle Vernon, Quinton Martin 5-85, Colton Lee 2-36, Chase Ruokonen 1-12.

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