Patriots “muff” chances to beat Liberty
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – There’s an old saying that states the stars might lie, but the numbers never do. Just look at the large disparity in rushing yardage between Liberty and Freedom in their annual rivalry game.
Liberty ran for 332 yards. Freedom ran for a mere 99.
Sounds like the Hurricanes dominated, right? You’re dead wrong.
Liberty (9-1) got a key Zachary Edelheisr sack on the final play of the game and barely escaped city rival Freedom (8-2) 20-14 Saturday afternoon from Frank Banko Field.
Despite the large difference in rushing yardage, Freedom held Liberty’s aerial attack to a measly 17 yards on just nine passing attempts, and the Patriots also returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.
But early on, it was all Liberty. Even though Freedom recovered the opening onsides kick, the Patriots were forced to a three-and-out. The Hurricanes then took their opening drive 13 plays, covering 85 yards, and drained 6:56 from the clock. Brandon Brader capped the drive with a three yard touchdown run.
Freedom fumbled on its next possession, and Liberty converted the gift into points, capping the drive with an Anthony Gonzales one-yard quarterback keeper to make it 12-0, Hurricanes.
“We always pride ourselves on our running game,” Liberty head coach Tim Moncman said.
The Hurricane ground game churned out 223 rushing yards in the first half, and held Freedom to just 19 total offensive plays.
“That was the best half of O-line play I’ve seen in my time here at Liberty,” Moncman said.
But the Patriots, despite being held to just 50 yards of offense and four first downs in the opening 24 minutes, stole back the Liberty momentum with a 92-yard kickoff return from Da’Shawn Serrano.
“They (Liberty) had their way with us in the first half,” Freedom head coach Jason Roeder said. “We just challenged our guys a little bit (at halftime).”
The challenge apparently worked, as Jermel Lee (3 rush, 36 yards) took the opening play of the second half 38 yards to the Liberty 32 yard line. Three plays later, Bethlehem Catholic transfer Eddie Mateo (16 rushes, 61 yards) darted in from eight yards out, and Freedom held a 14-12 lead.
The Patriots’ lead would be short-lived. Freedom muffed Liberty’s punt with 9:09 left in the third quarter, and the Canes recovered. Three plays later, Brader (21 rushes, 161 yards, 2 TD) sliced through the middle of the Freedom defense for a 27-yard touchdown. Anthony Gonzales’ successful two-point conversion run gave the red and blue a 20-14 lead it did not relinqiush.
Roeder was unhappy about the muffed punt.
“We missed a play on special teams, there,” the Patriots’ boss said.
As if the botched punt wasn’t enough, Freedom still had a chance to win the game with 1:49 left in the game. Patriot quarterback Ryan Tress (9-of-20, 121 yards, INT) hooked up with Collin Freitas on a 50-yard reception.
Tress spiked the ball to stop the clock with 17 seconds left, but on the very next play, Tress was sacked by Edelheisr, and time ran out before the Patriots could spike the ball.
“The kid (Freitas) made a great play,” Roeder said, “but the sack killed us. You cannot take a sack in that situation.”
The frenzied Liberty crowd roared in delight as the clock hit double-zeros, and the Hurricanes celebrated their 2008 Lehigh Valley Conference title, the third in the last four years.
Gonzales ran for 128 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries for Liberty. Brader’s 161 rushing yards were both team and game highs, and fullback Daryl Klotz added 41 yards on nine carries for the victors, which ran a total of 62 offensive plays (53 rushing) and racked up 19 first downs.
“(Gonzales, Brader, and Klotz) are three outstanding backs,” Moncman said. “We’d like to use Devin (WR Devin Street, a Pitt commit) a little more than we did today.” (Street had two catches for 17 yards).
Freedom which came in averaging 301 yards of offense per game, was limited to 220 total yards and 11 first downs.
Depending on the results of the Wyoming Valley West-Coughlin game, Liberty will either be a #1 or #2 seed. If the Spartans win, Liberty is #2 and Hazelton is #1. If Coughlin wins, Hazleton is #2 and Liberty is #1.
A potential first-round playoff matchup for Liberty will either be #8 East Stroudsburg South or #7 Delaware Valley.
Freedom finished as the #4 seed, and will likely draw #5-seeded Wyoming Valley West in the first round.
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