NEW BRIGHTON, Pa. – Through one half of their Week 2 meeting, Freedom and New Brighton struggled so mightily to score that the game’s most exciting play to that point didn’t even count. When the Freedom offense did find freedom, however, they made it count.
The Bulldogs (1-0, 2-1) broke loose for three second-half touchdowns to beat their Midwestern Conference hosts 28-7 at Oak Hill Stadium Friday night. Playing its first Class 2A opponent of any kind after two weeks of “playing up,” Freedom got a pair of TDs from both senior tailback Kyle Borgman and junior fullback Cody Ross to send the Lions (0-2, 0-3) to their third consecutive home loss.
“We saw holes in the beginning, but we just couldn’t hit them. In the second half we just came out with a different attitude,” Ross said afterward.
“Playing Bulldog football,” Freedom assistant coach Mark Ross affirmed. “We were able to run the ball and get a push from the offensive line. We came out, played our game and did what we do best.”
Despite going without a first down for the game’s first 17 minutes, Freedom clung to a 7-0 halftime lead–and the visitors had to take a circuitous route to find those points.
New Brighton quarterback Jackson Hall, with the game still scoreless in the second quarter, threw an apparent 80-yard pick-six to senior defensive back Jason Norman. The Bulldogs, however, had to settle for possession near midfield when it was determined one of their sideline-bound players had inadvertently bumped an official on the fly while standing too close to the field.
Still, the undaunted ‘Dogs got close enough for Borgman, who finished with 143 yards on 29 carries, to punch it in from the New Brighton 4 with 3:13 left in the half. Norman, meanwhile, enjoyed the last laugh with a second INT as New Brighton was threatening to tie in the final minute.
Freedom started to take control with its running game, spearheaded by Borgman, in the third quarter, after he had amassed just 24 yards through two periods.
“Our backs just started hitting holes,” said Borgman. “Our line was giving them to us.”
The Bulldogs doubled their lead on his 11-yard run off left tackle with 8:26 left, only to see the Lions answer less than a minute later, when Hall hit fellow sophomore Jake Francona on a 58-yard slant.
Hall managed quite a workload in defeat, completing 19 of 31 attempts for 218 yards. Francona finished with four catches for 95 yards and 108 total yards from scrimmage.
New Brighton played hard for heavy-hearted coach Joe Greco, mourning the recent loss of his sister, but it just wasn’t opportunistic enough. After the Lions recovered their own first-quarter punt off a Freedom miscue, Hall missed an open Caleb Shuler, and Austin George just missed to the left on a subsequent 30-yard field goal try.
With his team in Freedom territory and trailing 21-7 early in the fourth quarter, Hall short-armed a pass to an open Austin Fath, who slipped and fell as he tried coming back for the ball, on fourth down. New Brighton was unable to convert three prior fourth downs as well.
Ross’s four-yard power run with 2:30 left in the third had given the Bulldogs that 14-point advantage. The Quigley student, who is eligible to play for Freedom due to a co-op agreement between the schools, put the game away with his 4th-and-goal, goal-line plunge with 1:14 to go.
“We came out with a strong mentality, that we were going to win the second half,” said Borgman, “and that’s what we did.”
“Our coaches have made [the offense] a lot easier on us with their gameplans. It was a lot better tonight than the previous two weeks,” said junior quarterback Zach Rosa, who managed 81 net yards of offense.
Rosa had trouble throwing against New Brighton’s defense but did make a critical fourth-down completion to Jake Pail on the 13-play, 68-yard drive that Ross capped with his first touchdown.
So as it heads home for its final non-conference game of 2017, a 7:30 contest against Brentwood next Friday, Freedom looks a little more like the team that was turning heads by the end of 2016.
“We have a good brotherhood,” said Cody Ross. “We have a family attitude, and it’s a great attitude to have.”
New Brighton will visit MAC rival Neshannock next Friday at 7:00.
The Sports Now network is growing! Check out our new site PittsburghHockeyNow.com for the best Pittsburgh Penguins news and opinion.