Pates win District 11 title!
It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
That’s the cliché quote by sports coaches know everywhere. Freedom’s football team was a testament to that last Friday night in the District 11 6A championship game at Whitehall.
The Pates fumbled on their opening play from scrimmage, battled an early deficit and a bout of first half turnovers to steady the ship in the second half en route to a 28-14 victory over Emmaus that felt easier than it was by the time the clock hit zero.
It was the second district title for the Pates in four years, which now sets them up with a 6 p.m. battle against District 12 champion St. Joe’s Prep Friday evening at Cardinal O’Hara in the PIAA quarterfinals.
After starting the season 2-2, Freedom has now pulled together nine straight wins. Friday’s title was indicative of battling through obstacles and redemption after losing in the district championship last year on the same field.
“We had an emotional loss last year and had the promise to come back, but we had to do the work necessary,” said Freedom head coach Jason Roeder. “We had to walk the walk and not just talk about it. It was really gratifying and I’m just really proud of our kids and coaches.”
Freedom running back Deante Crawford shook off two first half fumbles, including a turnover on the opening play from scrimmage, to show everyone why he was the EPC South offensive MVP, corralling 186 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, both in the fourth quarter, to cement Freedom’s gold medals.
Crawford’s fourth quarter TDs (from 12 and 5 yards out) made the game 28-7 with 3:07 left, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of a game that went crazy in the first half.
Following’s Freedom’s fumble to start the game, Emmaus (9-4) took over at the Freedom 21 and converted a 4th-and-15 into a 26-yard TD throw from Josiah Williams to Chase Fotta to give Emmaus the 7-0 lead,
Freedom (11-2) answered right back on the ensuing drive, capped by a nine-yard TD run by Brian Taylor to level the score. Both teams would trade turnovers on their next possessions, but Freedom took a 14-7 lead going into halftime, thanks largely to a 72-yard Crawford run that set them up at the Emmaus one.
Taylor would sneak his way in for his second TD of the night with 4:46 left in the first half for a lead that the Pates would never relinquish. The first half saw four combined turnovers between both teams and an ejection of an Emmaus player for throwing a punch and a missed Emmaus field goal.
“One of the greatest things about playing those city games is that we get used to those type of amped games with a ton of intensity,” said Roeder. “They’re out there on their own and you hope they can rely on their coaching and character to get them through situations like what we encountered early in this one. I was happy our kids kept their composure and pulled through.”
Freedom’s defense forced five Emmaus turnovers on the night and stalled the Hornets with zero points on three red zone possessions. Emmaus outgained Freedom 352-to-261, but couldn’t convert their opportunities into points.
Williams went 21-of-28 for 282 yards and two touchdowns, but three interceptions were costly for the Green Hornets.
“A couple of weeks ago we made some changes on our defense to answer the bell in goal line situations and it paid off,” said Roeder. “The kids really buckled down in the red zone and that was a huge difference in this game.”
After losing to Nazareth in last year’s district finals, Freedom had plenty of motivation coming into the season. Being able to gain some redemption at Zephyr Stadium showed on the smiles of everyone involved with the program, who relished the significance of winning the program’s second district title.
“It’s enormous,” Roeder said of adding another championship. “Being back here last year and coming up short, as a program you get judged on this game. To recover from an emotional loss last year and promise to come back and do the work. It’s really gratifying and I have a ton of respect for our coaches and players. I know the work our kids go through and to see them smile tonight is really gratifying.”