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Herzog: Don't overlook that great Freeport defense

The victorious Freeport football team after the game.

The victorious Freeport football team after the game. Freeport defeated William Floyd 38-14. (November 28, 2009) Credit: Freelance/Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

If Floyd could hold on to the real football the way Freeport's Corey Bateman held on to the brass football on the championship trophy, perhaps the Red Devils would not have been celebrating on the turf at LaValle Stadium last night.

"I'm not letting go! I'm not letting go!" Bateman said as he moved among teammates, coaches and fans after Freeport's 38-14 victory over Floyd in the Long Island Class I championship game.

Even when a teammate asked to hold the trophy while Bateman spoke to a Newsday reporter, the 6-2, 210-pound senior held tightly and shook his head.

"Oh my God! I can't even describe how I feel!" said Bateman, who led a defense that held Floyd to 168 yards. "I kept telling the guys in the huddle, 'Don't give up. I'm not giving up. You can't.' We're very close. We've got each others' backs."

The Red Devils' defense is the forgotten unit on the 2009 championship squad that forever will be known as the team that rode running back-turned-quarterback Kevin Allen to the third Long Island title in school history. But there were other horses in the Freeport stable.

Bateman had three solo tackles and three assists. Defensive tackle David Agu had four solo tackles, two assists and a big fumble recovery late in the third quarter that led to a touchdown.

Defensive back Michael Groover was the most opportunistic of all. He made four solo stops, assisted on four others, made two interceptions on long passes and recovered a fumble, with the latter also leading to a Freeport touchdown.

Very few teams can overcome five turnovers. Floyd wasn't one of them.

"I think we could have shut them out," Groover said. "We practiced hard and we played really hard. We make plays on the ball."

Groover made two of them but downplayed those INTs. "Anyone could have made those picks," said the 5-10, 180-pound senior. "I just read the play and moved to the ball."

That was a theme all night. Freeport's defense isn't big, but boy, are they quick. Gang tackling is common. If there's a loose ball, you've got a devil of a time keeping it from those aggressive Freeport kids.

The Red Devils' program, under coach Russ Cellan, is defined by its offense - especially the spread, which Cellan helped pioneer on Long Island. But last night, for a change, the defense could at least share a part of the spotlight.

"Our defense played great," Cellan said. "I don't know if we forced all of them , but we can run. When you can run, you're around the ball. The turnover battle is always huge in championship games."

The Red Devils won that battle, 5-0, certainly part of why they won the game. As Groover said while flashing a grin as wide as the end zone, "This was a great day for the defense!"

A few yards away, Bateman could be seen strutting about, still clutching the trophy close to his heart.


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