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Jaelin Hood, Freeport special in Nassau I final

Jaelin Hood #3 of Freeport reacts after reeling

Jaelin Hood #3 of Freeport reacts after reeling in a pass for a touchdown in the Nassau Conference I final against Farmingdale at Hofstra University on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. Credit: James Escher

For all the speed, quickness and elusiveness the players in Freeport’s high-powered offense possess, the kickoff-return unit hadn’t been very special.

“It was the worst of our special-teams unit all year. We really got nothing from them,” Freeport coach Russ Cellan said, then delivered the punch line with a grin. “I guess we made up for it tonight.”

Jaelin Hood certainly did. The senior returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, made a spectacular backtracking 79-yard return for another touchdown and added a TD reception as Freeport outslugged Farmingdale, 53-28, Thursday night in the Nassau I final played at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.

Quarterback Rashad Tucker was also nearly impossible to tackle. He squirted, squirmed and scooted for 178 yards rushing on 13 carries, including a crucial 58-yard cutback run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that put the Red Devils up 41-21.

Freeport (10-1) will face the winner of Friday night’s Floyd-Ward Melville game for the Long Island Class I championship at noon on Nov. 25 at Hofstra. Farmingdale finished 10-1 and got superb efforts from quarterback Tommy Donovan (19-for-31, 297 yards, two TDs) and his favorite target, Antonio Smikle (eight catches, 144 yards, one TD). Jordan McLune was held to 48 yards rushing.

And though defense wasn’t the featured attraction for either team, the Red Devils did register eight sacks, including three in a row late that prevented a Dalers’ comeback. On the third, 6-3, 310-pound tackle Joel Cruz picked up the loose ball and rumbled 73 yards for the game’s final points.

Hood, who also caught five passes for 73 yards, was at his improvisational best on his second six-point kick return. He fielded a high kick at his own 35, bobbled it, then circled backward to avoid the first wave of Farmingdale tacklers. He spun away from two more, darted inside then cut to the left sideline and drove the Freeport crowd into a frenzy with his mad dash.

He also drove his coach nuts. “I was mad at him for not just going down after he bobbled it,” Cellan said. “But when you’ve got playmakers, they somehow figure it out.”

Freeport figured it out early, grabbing a 20-0 when Hood caught a quick slant from Tucker for a 6-yard score early in the second quarter. But Donovan got Farmingdale back in it with a 15-yard TD pass to Smikle and, after Hood’s second special play, found McLune with a perfectly placed fade for a 13-yard score that made it 27-14 at halftime.

Elyjah Campbell capped a 90-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown gallop. The big plays were a 31-yard run by Jahred Wray (13 carries, 92 yards, one TD) and an ankle-breaking, stutter-stepping 43-yard dash by Tucker.

McLune’s 5-yard run made it 33-21 late in the third quarter, leaving plenty of time for Farmingdale to return to the LIC. But Tucker’s 58-yard run, an 8-yard scoring run by Wray and Cruz’s length-of-the-field rumble brought Freeport its first county title since 2010.

“It’s been a rough four years for these guys,” Cellan said. “But they dug us out of it. I’m proud of every one of them. We knew this was possible.”

It was a special night.


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