**ARTICLE BY JOSH LONGSTRETH**
Riding a three-game win streak, Freeland has found some of their mojo again. That was shown in week 8 against a solid Birch Run team, topping the Panthers 40-6. They would face another big test in the regular season finale. The Cros-Lex Pioneers have had a tough go of it at the tail end of the regular season. Hit with the injury bug, the Pioneers have lost two of three. They, too, were looking to find themselves a bit. And would they ever in a week 9 battle with the Falcons.
Cros-Lex would come out firing in this one. They would take an early 7-0 lead in this one as Gavin Espinoza would find Trevor Soule on a 26-yard TD pass. Espinoza was a man possessed early. He would connect on another TD pass, this time to Nolan Moore from 10-yards out giving the Pioneers a 14-0 lead early. Freeland would calm things down a bit, however. Ty Fournier would give the Falcons life when he would find his way in from 23-yards out. That wouldn’t last long. Espinoza would give the Falcon defense fits yet again. He would hook up with Soule for another TD, this time the two would play pitch and catch from 51-yards away. Buckle, up, at the end of one it would be Cros-Lex with a 21-7 lead.
Freeland would hear a lot from Gavin Espinoza on this night. He would find a way to do it again to the Falcons and it wasn’t even halftime yet. The Espinoza and Soule combo would dial up another from 45-yards. It was all Pioneers to that point, 28-7. Freeland would have their backs against the wall in this one, and they would respond. Fournier would get the Falcons right back in the game. The speedster would find his way in from 4-yards away cutting the lead to 28-14. For the first time on the night the Cros-Lex offense would have their backs against the wall. The Freeland defense would force a punt late in the 2. That would spell doom for the Pioneers, the snap would go all the way to the back of the endzone. They would bring it out to the 1-yard line where Freeland would take full advantage on the next play. Nick Harrington would punch it in. All of the sudden, we had ourselves a ball game. Cros-Lex would lead heading into the half but with the Falcons having the momentum, 28-21.
They would hold on to that momentum coming out of the half. Fournier would do his thing again, this time from 48-yards out. We were knotted at 28 after the PAT. The signal caller for the Pioneers would do his best, “Anything you can do, I can do better act”, shortly after. Espinoza, by way of air, would find Drew Hosterman for another TD. The 30-yard TD pass would put Cros-Lex back on top, 35-28. The Pioneers would then grab a little more breathing room. This time it would be Gabriel Groppi finding a seam from 32-yards out. The bruiser would give his team a 41-28 lead after a missed PAT.
Freeland would do everything in their power to put the pressure on Cros-Lex. Sam Talaga would reach the endzone on an 11-yard TD run of his own. It would be just too little too late. Cros-Lex fends of the Falcons comeback attempt and takes this one 41-34. Espinosa led the way for Cros-Lex with 315 passing yards on the night to go with 5 TD’s. Ty Fournier piled up yards for the Falcons with 113 rushing yards and 3 TD’s.
This was one of the most anticipated matchups of week 9 across the state and did it ever live up to the billing. Two teams that are ranked in the state and the potential make deep playoff runs. Cros-Lex will get that ‘feel good’ feeling heading into the playoffs. They find it at the right time in what was the best game of the year for signal caller Gavin Espinosa. Freeland will take the loss but may have found out more about themselves which is crucial this time of year. They’ll both look to find tune things in practice this week as both await their fate on Selection Sunday.