Derry comes from behind, tops Freeport in overtime
Derry saw its first chance at victory denied in the final minute of regulation Friday by a goal-line fumble.
The Trojans didn’t let it happen twice.
Senior Onreey Stewart powered into the end zone on fourth down from 2 yards on the opening drive in overtime, and Derry’s defense answered with a stop to secure a 19-13, come-from-behind victory over Freeport in the teams’ Class 3A Big East opener at Freeport Area Athletic Stadium.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a tough game and that we had to play,” Stewart said. “It felt really good to celebrate with the team.”
After getting stopped for no gain on third down, Stewart took a direct snap on fourth down, was hit low near the goal line and fell into the end zone for the score. On Freeport’s first play of its overtime possession, Austin Romanchak hit Evan McCrea in the back of the end zone, but the would-be touchdown was nullified by a holding call that moved the ball back to the 25-yard line. Justin Flack intercepted Romanchak’s desperation fourth-down pass in the end zone to end the game.
“I’m very proud of the boys and how hard they played,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “They left everything on the field.”
Derry (2-0, 1-0) rallied from a 13-0 second-half deficit to force overtime, but the Trojans nearly won in regulation. Senior Colton Nemcheck fumbled the ball as he churned toward the end zone in the final minute of the fourth quarter, and Freeport recovered. It only delayed Derry’s victory.
“It’s an emotional game, but when we’re on the headsets down there, it’s all business,” Derry coach Tim Sweeney said.
Sweeney talked before the game about Freeport’s potential to pull surprises on offense after the Yellowjackets didn’t play a Week Zero game.
Gaillot and first-year offensive coordinator Mike King didn’t disappoint. On Freeport’s fourth play from scrimmage, Patrick Keeley found Romanchak -- the Yellowjackets’ starting quarterback the past two seasons -- on a swing pass, and Romanchak took it 26 yards for a touchdown.
Four players for Freeport took snaps from center in the first quarter alone: Keeley, Romanchak, freshman Garrett King and running back Conor Selinger in the wildcat. When Romanchak took the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, it gave the Yellowjackets (0-1, 0-1) a 13-0 lead and seeming control of the game.
Instead, Derry, which had just three first-half first downs, took control with its size and a little trickery of its own. A fake punt sparked a 14-play, 61-yard drive capped by Nemcheck’s 3-yard score to make it a 13-7 game, and the Trojans tied it when Flack took a misdirection handoff 56 yards for another score late in the third quarter.
“My high school coach at Derry, his name’s Carl Albaugh, and he calls me a riverboat gambler, where he was very conservative,” Sweeney said. “Not that one way is better than the other, but when I feel our offense needs a spark, I’m gonna roll the dice. When you have a defense that can do things like (ours can), you’re more inclined to take chances.”
Derry piled up 221 yards rushing, including 109 from Flack and 84 from Stewart.
The Trojans’ size also overpowered Freeport’s offensive line, leading to 10 sacks, including eight in the second half. The Yellowjackets also lost star running back/linebacker Conor Selinger to a leg injury in the first half.
“They started to wear us down a little bit,” Gaillot said. “The fake punt, that sparked them, and they never turned back after that. We kept fighting, but with a couple key injuries, (we couldn’t). We’ve just got to regroup and focus on next week.”
Romanchak passed for 82 yards, rushed for 21 and added 25 receiving for Freeport, which travels to No. 2 North Catholic next week.
Derry hosts South Park in a nonconference game next week before resuming conference play Sept. 21 at Mt. Pleasant.
“It’s a big win,” Stewart said. “Really big.”