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Hornets oust Pates, advance to face Trojans

For the past seven seasons, the Emmaus High School football team could not get the better of Freedom in the postseason. The Patriots had beaten the Hornets in the District 11 6A tournament in six of the last seven years.

The 2023 Hornets changed that narrative.

Behind two touchdowns from Josiah Williams and two field goals by Will Buck, fifth seeded Emmaus took down fourth seeded Freedom 19-14 last Friday night in a district quarterfinal round game at Bethlehem Area School District Stadium.

Williams, who was the Green Hornets’ (6-5 overall) starting quarterback for most of the regular season, took a back seat and gave way to sophomore Jerek Cooper.

The duo connected for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 16-yard pass from Cooper to Williams to erase a 14-13 deficit and take a 19-14 lead.

“It was a battle coming into the season,” said head coach Harold Fairclough of his two quarterbacks. “Josiah edged him out, and Jerek was very supportive. They both helped each other out along the way.

“My hat goes off to Josiah for the way he handled the decision that I made last week [in the Parkland game]. He could have pouted. He could have handled it a bunch of different ways. He showed some maturity and some growth.”

For the first quarter, and even the first half, it looked as if the same postseason fate awaited the Hornets as Freedom opened the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Chase Walker to Justin Peluso in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead.

Buck hit 42- and 27-yard field goals in the second quarter and the Green Hornets went into the halftime down 7-6. They took their first lead of the game on their first possession of the second half when Williams found the end zone from 10 yards away to go up 13-7.

The Patriots (6-5) answered and took back the lead on a three-yard run by Aaron Beete for a 14-13 advantage after three quarters.

Cooper’s touchdown pass to Williams came with 8:43 remaining and then the Emmaus defense held firm on back-to-back Freedom possessions, including sealing the game on an interception by Jah’khi Daves.

“It was a great effort from our guys,” Fairclough said. “We were able to finish drives in the second half. We told them, it’s going to come down to about six plays that are going to be the difference in this game. I think we got close. I think it was about five or six plays that made the difference here. I’m just happy for them. They wanted it. They worked their butts off.”

Cooper finished with 124 yards through the air and one touchdown pass. Williams rushed for 18 yards and the TD. Cole Moreau led the receiving corps with four receptions for 73 yards.

With the win in the quarterfinals, Emmaus extended its season one more week.

The Hornets move on to take on the state’s No. 2 ranked team this Friday when they visit top seed Parkland in an effort to hand the Trojans their first loss of the season.

“The postseason in general excites me and our program,” said Emmaus head coach Harold Fairclough. “This is what we work for all offseason. We work for the chance to compete for a championship. It’s going to be a tough task going on the road and competing against one of the top teams in the state but that’s the allure of the postseason.”

Parkland, the defending district champion, won its quarterfinal 56-0 over Williamsport.

“They are well coached, they have talent and depth at each position group,” said Fairclough. “We just played them two weeks ago, so we know what they bring and what to expect.

“It is going to be a battle all night and we’re going to have to be on our best to leave there with a win.”

The winner of Friday night’s game will take on the winner of the second seed, Nazareth, against the third seed, Northampton, in the final next weekend.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Jerek Cooper took over at quarterback during the Hornets' season finale. He passed for 124 yards and a touchdown in Friday's district playoff win over Freedom.