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FREEPORT—Last year, the nascent Freeport football program was welcomed to varsity play with a 74-6 drubbing at eventual Class C state champion Dirigo.
Saturday afternoon, however, against the same foe in the 2010 opener, the Falcons proved to be a vastly improved and much more competitive team.
For two-and-a-half glorious minutes, everything went Freeport’s way, but ultimately turnovers, penalties and a dose of youth and inexperience proved to be too much to overcome and the Falcons fell to 0-1 on the new season with a 25-12 loss to the 1-0 Cougars at Pownal Road Recreation Field.
“The kids fought hard the whole game,” said Freeport coach Rob Grover. “It’s a big step from last year. Offseason work and that attitude of the kids has really helped us. They’re working hard. They’re starting to understand what it takes to be a varsity program.”
Freeport finished 1-7 in its inaugural season, beating Sacopee in Week Two. The Falcons suffered a few key graduation losses (last year’s key playmaker and Fall Male Athlete of the Year Miguel Bickles was the biggest), but feel they’re better prepared to compete this autumn.
That was clear from the get-go Saturday against a Dirigo squad which has a vastly different look from a year ago.
After senior Matt MacMillan returned the opening kickoff five yards to the 30, junior Luke Lamagna took the snap, ran up the gut, broke a tackle, then outran the defense to the end zone for a stunning touchdown just 20 seconds in.
“Luke is a hard runner with speed to the outside,” said Grover.
Sophomore James Purdy’s two-point conversion run was stuffed, but Freeport had a quick 6-0 lead.
The Falcons then got the job done on defense to get the ball right back. The Cougars first play was a handoff to senior Spencer Ross that went for a four-yard loss, courtesy Freeport senior Dave Hart. Sophomore Dan Burke stuffed Ross for no gain on second down and on third down, senior Jake Deppmeyer raced through the line to sack Dirigo junior quarterback Ben Holmes for a three-yard loss.
The Falcons began their next series on their 24 hoping to keep the good times rolling, but momentum turned in a flash when the snap went awry, leading to a fumble that Cougars sophomore Zach White recovered at the Freeport 20.
Dirigo’s first two plays were stuffed for no gain by Hart and sophomore Jared Polley, but after a timeout, on third down, Holmes found sophomore Justin Dowland for 13-yards through the air and a first-and-goal at the 7. On the next play, Ross beat the defense to the right pylon for a 7-yard scoring run. Dowland added the extra point and the Cougars were ahead to stay, 7-6, with 8:02 to go in the opening stanza.
“We had a miscue and that gave them the momentum,” Grover lamented.
The Falcons threatened on their next series, moving from their 25 to midfield before a holding penalty (a sign of things to come) sent them backwards and forced a punt.
Dirigo took over at its 30 and promptly scored again when Holmes found Ross on a slant across the middle at midfield and Ross outran the defense for a touchdown. Dowland’s extra point was blocked, but the Cougars had a 13-6 lead after one period, despite Freeport having a 94-92 advantage in yardage.
The fumble and four penalties for 44 yards kept the surprising Falcons from doing even better.
Neither team would score in the second quarter. Freeport did drive deep into Dirigo territory midway through, but on fourth-and-5, a fake field attempt led to a rush by MacMillan that was stopped just inches short. Just before the half, the Falcons drove from their 44 to the Cougars’ 27, but time expired before they could do anything further.
Freeport outgained Dirigo, 180-109, in the first half, but still trailed, 13-6.
The defending champs would get a little separation in the second half, but to their credit, the Falcons never buckled.
After Freeport forced a punt to start the third quarter, another critical mistake put it in deep trouble. After false start and holding penalties pushed the Falcons back to their 12, a bad snap was recovered by White at the 2. Holmes ran it in on the next play and despite the extra point failing, Dirigo had some breathing room, up 19-6.
Freeport had to punt on its next series (it had negative-1 yard for the third quarter) and Dirigo used up the rest of the quarter and the first two minutes of the fourth driving from its 7 to midfield before a sack by junior Morgan Kuntz forced a punt.
The Falcons moved from their 5 to the 32, but on fourth-and-8, Purdy threw incomplete off a fake punt and the Cougars took over on downs at Freeport’s 32.
Five plays later, it was 25-6 when Dowland ran in from the 3. A 14-yard run by Dowland got the march started. After an offensive pass interference penalty, Holmes found sophomore Spencer Trenoweth for 29 yards, setting the stage for the score. Again, the extra point was no good, but Dirigo appeared home free.
Freeport saved its best for last. With 2:07 to play, Lamagna broke free again, this time for a 60-yard TD as he broke a tackle, then beat the defense down the left sideline. The extra point was no good, but the Falcons had made it a 25-12 contest. That’s as close as they would get, however, as the Cougars picked up two first downs and brought down the curtain on the season opener.
Freeport ended with a 269-221 edge in offense. Lamagna rushed for 168 yards and two scores on 11 carries and even completed a pass to Deppmeyer for five yards. MacMillan had 35 yards on 11 attempts and threw an 11-yard pass to Deppmeyer. Burke had 33 yards on 10 carries. Sophomore Cory Aldecoa finished with 55 yards on 11 carries. Knighton had 7 yards on three attempts. Deppmeyer led the defense with three sacks, while Kuntz managed one.
“We’re a balanced team,” Grover said. “We don’t have one playmaker. We have a lot of depth. That’s the biggest improvement is our defense. We’re starting to believe in each other this year.”
Ultimately, two turnovers and a whopping 12 penalties for 134 yards proved too much to overcome.
“I told the kids, ‘They didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves,’ Grover said.
Dirigo was paced by Holmes’ five completions in six tries, 136 passing yards and a score. He also ran for 12 yards and a TD on seven carries. Dowland had 49 yards and a score on 11 attempts and caught one pass for 13 yards. Ross rushed for 39 yards and a TD on 13 carries. He caught two passes good for 82 yards and a score. The Cougars had no turnovers and were able to shrug off seven penalties for 59 yards.
Better luck next week?
A year ago, Freeport’s lone victory came against visiting Sacopee, 24-6. The Hawks didn’t have enough players in their opener Friday and had to forfeit against Jay, 2-0, but Grover is confident the Falcons will make the trip to Sacopee Saturday, play and play well.
“Hopefully there’s a game next week,” Grover said. “We don’t have any injuries to speak of. We’ll start over. We’ll keep getting better.”
That’s already evident.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
Sophomore Jared Polley tries to break a tackle during Freeport’s 25-12 home loss to Dirigo Saturday afternoon.
Senior running back Matt MacMillan straight-arms a Dirigo defender during Saturday’s loss.
Freeport junior Luke Lamagna races down the sidelines for a touchdown on the Falcons’ first play from scrimmage Saturday. Lamagna’s 70-yard score gave his team an early 6-0 lead over defending Class C state champion Dirigo.
More photos below.
Dirigo- 13 0 6 6- 25
Freeport- 6 0 0 6- 12
F- Lamagna 70 run (run failed)
D- Ross 7 run (Dowland kick)
D- Ross 70 pass from Holmes (kick blocked)
D- Holmes 2 run (kick failed)
D- Dowland 3 run (kick failed)
F- Lamagna 60 run (kick failed)