FREEPORT—Case in point: The Patriots vs. the Falcons, Saturday afternoon, Sept. 23. Two programs, battling to develop, each winless through the first three weeks of the 2017 season. Both teams took to the field hoping for a competitive bout; both had gameplanned extensively. Only one, though – Freeport – executed like they needed to, and it allowed them to soar easily over G-NG. 41-6 the final.
“We had a long week of practice,” Freeport head coach Paul St. Pierre said. “We did know, coming into this, this was more than just a possible-winnable game; we have to win this game. If we want to make the playoffs, which is our goal, we had to win this game. So we let that be known to the players. They responded very well.”
“I was hoping to be way more competitive than we were today,” said Patriots head coach Duane Greaton. “A couple of key injuries, obviously: We lost our senior Captain runningback for the season, Boomer Simmons, he’s got a torn labrum – pretty much because of this game here, last year. They had hoped he could rehab through it. But that’s fine; we’ve got to move on. So we went through it with a lot of sophomores and freshmen running the ball. We’re going to take our growing lumps along the way. Still, not happy with how we executed. We gameplanned very well for this; we just did not execute.”
See, in a battle of 0-3s, it might not seem like much is on the line, but it is. These teams may not be bound for States, but that merely means States isn’t the goal: clinching the last playoff berth is – or even clinching a single win. Because wherever a proud squad ranks, the achievement that seems just out of reach is the one they hunger after: Going 1-7 in a season when you appeared fated to go 0-8 may not feel quite the same as hoisting a gold ball…but it still feels mighty sweet.
So, props are due to the long list of Falcons who contributed to the big W, from Seniors like Josh Burke and Mike Foss all the way down to freshmen like Justin Cogswell. And props, too, are due to the Patriots who never gave up – including lone scorer Trent Overcash – and who will no doubt come out fighting just as hard next week.
“We’re sitting here, we’re thinking, ‘All right, we’re 0-3; we can either just say, ‘Screw it; season’s over,’ or we can come back and fight for it,’” Foss, a Captain, said. “That’s what I think we did. We’ve got a quarterback that likes to hype people – Josh Burke, he’s really good at getting into people’s heads and telling them, ‘Hey, let’s go, we’ve got to do this.’ And being a Captain this year, it makes it a lot easier to try and talk to people, because you’re not that junior on the sideline anymore. You’re that senior Captain that people look up to, they listen to. So when I try to go out and give a speech or get a hype chant going, people listen, people follow.”
The Falcons put up 14 points in the first on TDs by Adam Ulrickson and Burke. They put up 14 in the second, too: Foss, scooting through the G-NG end zone around the 9:35 mark, caught a pretty pass from QB Josh Burke and, six minutes later, James Knighton ran a short score home.
For Foss, the season is especially meaningful, as he’s faced a number of struggles in recent years. He’s suffered multiple serious injuries, for instance; one of those ended his 2016 season far too early.
“It’s been a journey, definitely,” he said. “I’ve had to go through countless hours of PT just trying to strengthen up both shoulders…When you get back out on the field after being out for so long, you’re so antsy to go and get that score, or that big hit. I think I was able to say I did both. When we did a little reverse over to this side of the field, I remember, my guy completely ran the wrong direction. I’m like, ‘All right, I’ve got to find a white jersey and lay him out. And here comes No. 14; I drop my shoulder and watch him fall backwards. I’m like, ‘There’s my big hit.’ Then we come down the field, [Coach] calls the waggle pass, and I’m like, ‘This is my money play, right here. And that’s all she wrote…Touchdowns like that are what make it all worth it.”
Foss described the scoring play from his p.o.v.: “I knew the DB was a little bit slow off the jump – nothing against them, they were just playing press. I’m really good at press coverage because I can take a step to the outside and I’m gone. As soon as he opened up, I was gone: I took one step left, one step right. I had the whole back end of the end zone just completely open. Josh dropped it in and there it was. It’s one of those passes that you see [from] an NFL quarterback where it’s got that perfect arch and it goes right into the breadbasket. I caught it, walked in, did my little celly thing. I got picked up by lineman Will Gormley. He knew that touchdown meant a lot to me.”
“I had to keep myself composed. I have this date written down on my wrist,” Foss said, gesturing at a wrap of tape inked with a month-date-year, “this is the date my mom passed away, and it’s the first thing I looked down to. Yeah, I’m all hyped, I’m in the end zone, but my biggest pain has caused me to be the best that I can be.”
Foss was quick to highlight a number of things his teammates did right: “Definitely the offensive line…They were pushing kids back,” he said. “We have a couple kids, at the beginning of the season, they didn’t really know the right blocking technique, and then they come out and pancake kids? You see that from the outside perspective, and you’re like, ‘Holy cow.’ They’ve completely transformed the way they played…Words can’t express how proud I am today for them.”
“And penalties,” Foss said. “The first two games – we have a lot of new kids to this game of football – and they’re still getting used to how the game works, but where we came out here, executed, I think we had maybe one offsides penalty.
“We had a productive week of practice,” St. Pierre said. “And it showed today. A lot of the guys finally clicked, really gelled for the team. They played together, did their jobs they way they were trained, the way they’re supposed to. When we all do that, and we have less penalties than we’ve had in the past, good things will happen.”
“Today we happened to execute,” St. Pierre said. “The first two games, we didn’t really execute the way we should have. I think we learned from that. Last week, we executed better – problem was, we played a really good team, in York.”
St. Pierre was as quick as Foss to praise the offensive line. “They’re doing much better. They’re finally starting to work together better, they’re not committing the penalties we had in the first two games. And they’re starting to really understand their assignment. No matter what defensive front [the other team throws at us], they’re starting to know how to block each play to the front. And that’s a big step. It’s one thing to block plays when you’re facing a four-four. But what happens when they throw a five-two at you, or a five-three, and they start changing it up? Can you adjust. It’s starting to click at the right time.”
The Patriots weren’t without their own moments, though: Isaiah Thongsavangh sacked Burke early in the third to force a Falcons punt, and Jaykob Sanborn ran a slick, winding route for 23 on the first snap of the ensuing G-NG series. But the visitors couldn’t put it all together, and all too soon turned the ball over again, allowing Freeporter Jacob Tomm to post the Falcons’ fifth touchdown of the afternoon late in the quarter. Cogswell then tallied their sixth midway through the fourth.
The Patriots did eventually get on the board: Overcash returned the kickoff following Cogswell’s touchdown to first and 10 at G-NG’s own 33. From there, Overcash took a stab left, but found himself stuffed. He tried again on second and 10 – and this time managed to break away, zipping 69 long yards into Freeport’s end zone for 41-6. Those points, however, would prove the last of the day.
“For some reason, our linemen start communicating again,” Greaton said of the snap on which Overcash scored, “pick up their blocks, know their assignments, and we were able to hit the outside. What I don’t understand is why that doesn’t happen every play during the game. Just mental lapses and non-communication. Growing pains.”
“The beauty of it is, when we scored at the end, those kids that came in at the end didn’t quit,” Greaton said. “They still kept playing football. Which is something to build on.”
Asked to name some more names, Foss eagerly praised one in particular. “Definitely I want to shout out,” he said. “Andrew St. John…he’s normally that kind of underdog that people tend to doubt. My whole touchdown was set up by him. There was a DB blitz that came around the corner and Josh didn’t see him on his blindside, and [Andrew] turned around and lit [the DB] up enough time for Josh to dump it in.”
Freeport, of course, advances to 1-3 with the victory. The Falcons are currently ranked eighth in C South; if they can hold on to that slot, they will reach the tournament. Of course, several tough regular-season bouts still remain ahead of them. Both Foss and St. Pierre, however, feel the W over G-NG might represent a turning point for this year’s lineup.
“I’m just, I’m so proud of our team today,” Foss said. “Like Coach was saying, ‘We can either wrap it up and let the season go 0-8 and take the beating, or we can turn stuff around and fight for a playoff spot – especially come Battle of the Bay. We’ve got some people hyped for that game; we’ve even got the news coming in that morning for a pep rally. With this turn of momentum, I definitely believe we can at least go 4-4 or 5-3.”
The Battle of the Bay is Freeport’s annual matchup vs. Yarmouth. Last year, the Falcons won the bout for the first time ever.
Foss is also excited about the Spruce Mountain contest. “I can’t wait to play Spruce. Last year, that was our first playoff game, we got beat 26-24, I think it was. I didn’t get to play that game – I’m like, ‘This is Freeport’s first playoff game and I can’t even play.’ So now I’ve got to go out and I’ve got to show Spruce what’s up.”
“Today was one of those days that was going to determine really how the rest of the season is going to be handled,” St. Pierre said. “Because of the way we won today, which was very effective, very efficient, we have a lot of positivity going forward. We do know that a lot of the opponents going forward are still going to be tough. Even Yarmouth, who hasn’t won yet, they’re always tough when they play us. The great thing is, now, we’ve felt the win, we know how to win. Now there’s hope; that’s the greatest force you can have…If we execute and continue to play well, there’s reason to believe we could win a couple more. Some of the teams we’re going to face, they’re tough – but they’re not perfect.”
The Falcons host Spruce on Saturday the 30th, then travel to Morse on Friday the 6th. The close out their schedule vs. Gardiner on the 14th and Yarmouth on the 20th.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME
Freeport’s Mike Foss reeled in one of the team’s several touchdowns on a pretty pass by QB Josh Burke on Saturday.
Falcon Jacob Tomm lines up before a snap.
Freeport QB Josh Burke, under pressure, surveys his options.
Freeport runner Jacob Tomm carries a G-NG defender with him into the end zone.
Freeporter Griffin Agnese (89) tackles a would-be G-NG receiver, forcing him to drop the ball.
Xavier Adams finds a gap on the run for Freeport.
Justin Cogswell skirts a G-NG defender.
QB Justin Cogswell, carrying for Freeport, pushes into the G-NG end zone behind his offensive line.