BUFFALO TWP — North Catholic football coach Patrick O'Shea has a sixth sense at times.
Before a game, he gets an inkling of where his team's head and “football soul” is at.
He didn't like what he was feeling before kickoff Friday night at Freeport.
“There's that part of football that's like a mystery,” O'Shea said. “If you don't bring that soul part of football, that human part of football that's real hard to tap into, you can be in trouble.”
Most of the trouble, though, came from a hard-nosed and scrappy Freeport team that has a penchant for rising to the occasion in big games.
Especially big games when few give the Yellowjackets a chance.
Freeport gave North Catholic all it could handle, leading 20-14 with a little less than four minutes remaining in the game before the Trojans scored two late touchdowns for a 28-20 win.
“They are tough, tough kids,” O'Shea said of Freeport. “In this conference, if you don't show up every Friday night, it doesn't matter who you are, you can lose. Freeport is strong. They're physically tough. We try to be like them. We try to be blue-collarish in our work.”
The two teams spent most of the game bludgeoning each other.
Freeport quarterback Garret Schaffhauser was sacked nine times. North Catholic quarterback Zack Rocco was hit on virtually every passing play and was sacked five times.
Neither team could get much traction on offense until North Catholic (2-0) broke through on the final play of the first half when Rocco found running back Anthony Serventi in the middle of the field for a 23-yard touchdown.
The score was set up by a 15-yard penalty that extended the half when the Freeport bench was called for making contact with a player on the field of play.
“The kids played their heart out,” said Freeport coach John Gaillot. “That was (my fault) there — that first touchdown. We while should have gone in 0-0. That's on me. That game's on me.”
Despite giving up the touchdown at the end of the half, Freeport (0-2) came out sharp to start the third quarter.
The Yellowjackets needed just four plays to go 64 yards to tie the score at 7-7.
Schaffhauser found Brodey Woods streaking all alone down the left sideline for a 32-yard touchdown.
The two hooked up again on another 32-yard throw and catch a few minutes later to give Freeport a 13-7 lead after the extra point attempt was botched.
“Surprisingly as uplifting as it should have been for us, it was Freeport who used it for them,” O'Shea said. “That's that part of football that's strange. Our locker room was flat at halftime. It just wasn't there for whatever reason.”
North Catholic took a brief lead when Eamon Straub slashed his way into the end zone from 3 yards out.
The Trojans then got a break when Alex Dudash picked off a pass on Freeport's first play after the North Catholic score and was set up at the Yellowjackets' 29.
Luke Miller, though, crashed a bubble screen, picked off a Rocco pass and raced 65 yards for a touchdown on the next play to give Freeport a 20-14 lead.
It stayed that way until injuries mounted for the Yellowjackets.
Senior wide receiver/defensive back Isiah Bauman didn't play and the Yellowjackets also lost Schaffhauser, Miller and lineman Noah McQuade to injuries.
North Catholic took the lead for good on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Rocco to Mathias Benson.
The Trojans tacked on their final score on a 2-yard run by Rocco with 50 seconds left.
Rocco finished 20-of-33 passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 15 times for 35 yards.
At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Rocco was a handful for Freeport.
“He's a runner, man,” O'Shea said. “We try to limit some of his runs right now early in the season. He didn't play in our first two scrimmages. Our playcalling right now with him is a little bit more conservative.”
North Catholic will face Central Valley in a non-conference game Friday at the Mars Athletic Complex.