Freedom ends Hornets’ football season
It seemed as if every time Emmaus needed a stop on defense, Freedom had an answer on offense.
The host No. 3 seed Hornets trailed just 6-0 at halftime, yet it felt like much more than that. In the second half, No. 6 Freedom separated itself to pull off the upset on Friday night at Emmaus High School.
The Patriots built on that 6-0 lead with two quikc third-quarter touchdowns. Emmaus got on the scoreboard finally late in the third quarter and once more in the fourth, but Freedom advanced to the District 11 Class 6A football semifinals with a 26-15 victory.
“It kept their drives alive,” head coach Harold Fairclough said of Freedom’s third down conversions. “It kept the ball out of our hands offensively. That was crucial. We had them in a couple of third-and-long situations, and we couldn’t make plays.”
While the Patriots didn’t score on their first two drives, they did convert three third-and-long situations to keep those scoring threats alive. On its third drive, Freedom did capitalize.
Quarterback Jared Jenkins hit Alex Huertas for a 25-yard touchdown throw to make it a 6-0 Freedom lead with 11 minutes to play in the half.
Emmaus’ offense struggled to muster any rhythm throughout the first half. The Hornets didn’t convert a first down until midway through the second quarter, and were held to just 58 yards through 24 minutes.
When the second half got underway, the Patriots wasted no time. Jenkins and Huertas hooked up for the second time not even two minutes into the second half. Their 22-yard connection gave the Patriots a 13-0 lead.
“They hit a big play on us,” Fairclough said. “Reed was in position, and we just didn’t make a play. It comes down to that they have good players on their team. Their quarterback is young, but he is pretty good. They have some play makers on the edge. Their guys made plays when they need to, and we didn’t.”
Jenkins hit wideout Justus Grube for a 71-yard gain on the next possession, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run from Tristan Wheeler. That gave Freedom a commanding 19-0 lead with 3:33 left in the third.
“We talked about it all year,” Fairclough said. “It’s been like our Achilles heel, the penalties in crucial situations. You can’t have them, especially in big games.”
Quarterback Blake Reed hit Izaiah McPherson for an 8-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that cut Freedom’s lead to 19-7. The Hornets had a chance to slice the deficit even further after the Patriots went three-and-out on their next two drives, but the Hornets couldn’t capitalize.
After Jenkins picked up a game-clinching first down on a Patriot third-down play, an Emmaus defender ripped the ball out of his hands. It didn’t matter much, as Grube was there to pick up the loose ball and run it seven yards into the end zone for a 26-7 lead with 3:52 remaining.
The Hornets end the season at 6-5 overall. They came into the season as one of the favorites in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference after last year’s South Division title.
“We were trying to get better every week,” Fairclough said. “We didn’t do that. We were too inconsistent. You can’t fold because someone expected you to be good.”
Freedom will host No. 7 Pocono Mountain West on Friday at 7 p.m. at Bethlehem Area School District Stadium.