Zephs get another chance
It's not very often that you get what you hope for, but for Zephyr head football coach Brian Gilbert, that's precisely what will happen this Friday when they travel to Bethlehem.
After their overtime loss to Freedom on Oct. 10, Gilbert believed his team didn't play up to their capabilities, coming out flat in the first half that allowed the Pates to stay within striking distance of the Zephs. The Pates eventually put together three scoring drives, two in the final 12 minutes that led to the extra session.
When it was over, he expressed his desire to meet them again. He said it was a tough loss, the kind that just sticks in your craw and won't budge until you get to play again.
They'll have their opportunity this Friday when the two meet in the opening round of the District 2/4/11 4A subregional playoffs. Whitehall enters the tourney as the fifth seed, while the Pates are fourth, thereby hosting the Zephyrs.
For Gilbert, the locale doesn't matter. What's important is that they have the chance to control their own destiny.
"We wish we were at home, but we're more excited about the chance to play the team who beat us the first time around," said Gilbert who's leading the Zephs to their third consecutive D-11 postseason appearance.
In order to accomplish that feat, WHS needs to adhere to one key factor.
"We can't come out flat," said Gilbert. "We just have to be ready to play and be energized. That first half [in our last meeting], we didn't have that spark."
One of those players who was an integral part of the Pates win won't be on the field for the rematch. Freedom will be without quarterback Joe Young who orchestrated those second-half drives. He made big plays with his legs, with one run netting 43 yards. He finished that game hobbled, but was able to guide them to victory. But it came at a price. It was the last game he played, suffering a season-ending injury.
The Pates are now led by Jonah Gundrum. Gilbert said the Pates won't differ too much on offense with Gundrum, but there may be new wrinkles. They'll still look to run the ball with Roberto Diez and Joe Santos.
Still, Gundrum isn't shy about putting it in the air. He threw for over 100 yards in his first start, and followed that with 184 versus Liberty in leading them to a 29-0 win on the final game of the regular season. That win nailed down the four seed, while also keeping the 'Canes from the tourney.
They have a strong defense led by linebacking corps that features John Callahan, Brady Hornbaker, Marquis Stewart and Andres Santos.
Gilbert said that Gundrum's doing a good job running the offense. Still, Whitehall is ready to exact some revenge, and that will serve as enough motivation once the whistle sounds to start the game.
The Zephs counter with an offense that's scored 434 points. They have a multifaceted team that can score on the ground, through the air and on special teams. Quarterback Gianni Sinatore has thrown for a record-setting 19 touchdowns this year, while the backs have racked up 2,461 yards on the ground.
Senior Saquon Barkley doesn't want the year to end on Freedom's hmultifacetede memory of their loss to the Pates at home is still fresh in his mind. The remedy for success is adhering to their game plan.
"We have to play our game," said Barkley who recently became the school's single-season rushing leader. "We didn't play a great game the last time, and we just have to be ourselves throughout the game.
Barkley also acknowledged the need to play with high intensity right from the start.
"We have to come out with effort and energy," he said.
Barkley said that Freedom is a "well put together team," and that they'll need to be playing at a high level to beat them. He said if everyone handles their assignments, they'll have success.
"We need to focus on ourselves and handle our keys, and the rest will take care of itself," said Barkley.
"We have our jobs to do. We can't waste any opportunities."
Barkley doesn't want any missed opportunities, referencing former teammates who have been in a similar situation.
"Once it's gone, we'll never have it back," he said. "We don't want our season to end. It's going to be a tough road and we'll take it game by game."