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Freedom ends Hornets’ season in D-11 semi

A thrilling high school football playoff game ended as a nightmare for Emmaus.

Freedom continued its postseason success with a 28-27 win over the Hornets in the District 11 6A semifinal win last Thursday night at East Penn School District Stadium. The defending district champion Patriots have bedeviled Emmaus since 2016, having won nine of their 12 encounters. Freedom has ended now Emmaus’ season in the district playoffs six times in seven years, including the last two consecutive seasons.

The Patriots, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, will try to earn their second consecutive 6A title against No. 6 seed Parkland on Nov. 18. The Trojans defeated Northampton in the other semifinal, 31-13.

The Freedom and Emmaus game featured twists and turns and enough subplots to rival a horror film. However, the contest boiled down to a failed Emmaus two-point conversion just a yard and half from the goal line with 2:44 left in the fourth quarter.

The game started with an impressive, time-consuming 10-play, 65-yard Freedom drive which ended when Owen Johnson caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Ethan Neidig. However, the extra point attempt was blocked giving Freedom a 6-0 lead.

Neidig, an efficient but sometimes overlooked quarterback, had a fine game hitting 12 of 17 passes for 158 yards and one touchdown. Neidig ran also for 40 yards on 12 carries and one touchdown.

When the Hornets finally got the ball they embarked on their own impressive drive, which carried over into the second period and concluded when Jake Fotta ran for a four-yard touchdown and a 7-6 advantage. The drive covered 70 yards and took 17 plays. Fotta, who was a viable offensive threat throughout the ‘22 campaign, for the game completed 16 passes on 24 attempts for 177 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran for two scores on 8-for-28 rushing.

After the Emmaus defense forced a punt, the Hornets went on another outstanding drive - this one took 10 plays and covered a massive 89 yards, culminating when Tylik Jarivs carried the mail from 7 yards out for a 14-6 lead.

As typical with this classic football game, the Pates responded with their own nice drive, covering 73 yards on nine plays and ending when Neidig scored from one yard out. Freedom this time failed to convert on a two-point attempt and trailed 14-12 at halftime.

The Hornets stormed out of halftime with yet another fantastic drive. This one ended when Fotta hit Jarvis with an 8-yard touchdown pass for a 21-12 lead.

This is where the game turned. From this point on the Emmaus offense was stuck in neutral as Freedom held it to just 30 yards and two first downs the rest of the way.

The Pates’ offense then scored two touchdowns and converted two, two-point conversions to take a 28-20 lead as the third quarter ended. Both TDs came courtesy of tailback Jalen Fletcher - from 13 and seven yards.

Fletcher is one of the Lehigh Valley’s best running backs. He carved out 91 yards on 15 carries in addition to the two scores. The first Freedom TD came after a 79-yard drive. The second was the result mostly of an interception.

On a second-and-15, Fotta was hit while throwing and the ball wobbled through the night sky landing in the hands of Freedom’s John Roeder, who returned the pick to the Emmaus 18. It was the game’s only turnover.

However, the Hornets didn’t throw in the towel, scoring their season’s last touchdown on a 3-yard Fotta run to pull to 28-27. At this point Freedom committed an illegal substitution penalty, moving the ball in from the 2-yard-line to a yard and a half. Emmaus head coach Harold Fairclough opted then for a two-point conversation.

Fotta was out of the game with trainers and Josiah Williams took over as quarterback. Taking the snap he handed off to the talented and record-setting receiver Dylan Darville, who ran to the left.

Darville has been superlative this season, but on this play could not escape Freedom’s defensive end Nick Ellis, who sniffed the play out almost immediately and was not really blocked. While Ellis did not make the tackle, he made the play and allowed teammate Justin Peluso to tackle the elusive Darville.

The game was not over and Freedom had to dodge a few bullets. First, an Emmaus onside kick was free but Freedom recovered eventually. Then the Patriots offense chewed up time with between-the-tackles running plays. The Hornets finished themselves off with an encroachment penalty on fourth-and-1 to give Freedom a first down. From there the Pates ran the clock out.

Emmaus finished the season at 10-2. In their program’s history the Hornets have never won a district title.

Emmaus Tylik Jarvis (4), Freedom Alexie Sangster (5)
PRESS PHOTO BY MARK LINEBERGER Mario Landino harasses Freedom quarterback Ethan Neidig during the District 11 semifinals.
PRESS PHOTO BY MARK LINEBERGER Emmaus John Wassel tries to step through a tackle by Freedom's Alexie Sangster.