Freedom holds off Pioneers in overtime
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Watauga coach Ryan Habich preaches to his Pioneers that even though they can be a big underdog, they still win football games.
The Pioneers bought into it Friday night and nearly upset Freedom at Jack Groce Stadium. It took an overtime period, but the Patriots staved off Watauga's upset bid with a 41-34 overtime victory.
Freedom, which went first in the overtime period, scored on a Chris Bridges 6-yard touchdown run to take a 41-34 lead. Watauga had a chance to answer, but had to overcome a Freedom defense that regained its ability to stop the run and a bizarre penalty that left the Pioneers with a fourth-and-11.
Watauga, facing a fourth-and-six from the six, called timeout to set up its final play. As the play was just beginning, the Pioneers were called for a sideline warning, even though the line of scrimmage was nowhere near Watauga's bench, which the Pioneers' players and coaches are not allowed past the 25-yard line.
Since it was Watauga's second warning of the game, the Pioneers were penalized five yards back to the 11. Since teams are only allowed one timeout during an overtime period, and that the Pioneers already showed the play they were going to run just before the penalty was called, they switched plays.
Watauga quarterback Aaron Dobbins's fade pass to Cameron Baker in the left corner of the end zone was broken up by the Patriots' cornerback Khris Gardin, and Freedom held on to win.
The overtime capped a close game where neither team led by more than one touchdown. Freedom looked like it got the break of the game when Watauga missed an extra point after a T.J. Poulos 12-yard touchdown run, but Poulos got the point back when he blocked the Patriots' extra point after Gardin, who is a preseason all-state selection at receiver, scored on a 65-yard touchdown pass with 57.8 seconds left in the game.
Both teams provided plenty of fireworks on offense. The Pioneers, who fell behind for the first time all season when Freedom's Chris Bridges scored on a 38-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, managed to keep up with the Patriots' offense the entire game.
Watauga took the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run by Zach Williams. The score capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive that featured a 45-yard run by Poulos.
It was Williams' second touchdown of the game. His 1-yard score in the second quarter, set up by a 55-yard screen pass to Poulos, tied the game 14-14.
Dobbins tied the game late in the third quarter by bulling over from the 4-yard line to tie the game again 21-21. That score capped a 12-play, 76-yard drive that took 5:03 off the third-quarter clock.
Watauga rolled up 423 yards of total offense, including 262 on the ground. Poulos led the Pioneers with 104 yards on just eight carries, while Williams gained 77 yards on 16 carries.
Dobbins completed 10-of-18 passes for 161 yards and two interceptions. Nathan Ford, who scored the Pioneers' first touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Dobbins, had four receptions to lead Watauga.
Freedom kept up its offensive pressure throughout the game with big plays through the air and a solid ground game. Patriots quarterback Titus Smith tossed two key touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the first to Gardin that tied the game at 28-28.
Watauga answered with Poulos' 12-yard score, but Gardin's 65-yarder forced the overtime period.
The Patriots struggled with turnovers. Freedom lost four of six fumbles and Smith threw two interceptions.
Smith also completed 12-of-18 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Gardin caught nine passes for 180 yards and all three of Smith's TD tosses.
Both of Freedom's running backs -- Bridges and B.J. Emmons -- were tough on the Pioneers' defense. Emmons led all rushers with 148 yards on 16 carries, while Bridges finished with 124 yards on 14 carries.
The Patriots finished with 365 yards rushing and 563 yards in total offense.
Freedom 41, Watauga 34 (OT)
Freedom 14 7 0 13 7 -- 41
Watauga 7 7 7 13 0 -- 34
Scoring by quarters
FHS--Bridges 38 run (Barrier kick)
WHS--Ford 14 pass from Dobbins (Shirley kick)
FHS--Gardin 6 pass from Smith (Barrier kick)
WHS--Williams 1 run (Shirley kick)
FHS--Emmons 14 run (Barrier kick)
WHS--Dobbins 4 run (Shirley kick)
WHS--Williams 4 run (Shirley kick)
FHS--Gardin 5 pass from Smith (Barrier kick)
WHS--Poulos 11 run (Kick failed)
FHS--Gardin 65 pass from Smith (Kick blocked)
FHS--Bridges 6 run (Barrier kick)
First downs 17 14
Rushes-yards 39-365 44-262
Passing yards 198 161
Passes 12-18-2 10-18-2
Penalties-yards 3-15 7-40
Fumbles-lost 6-4 3-0
Rushing: FHS--Emmons 16-148, Bridges 14-124, Smith 7-55, Davis 2-33; WHS--Poulos 8-104, Williams 16-77, Dobbins 15-54, Ford 4-24, Baker 1-3.
Passing: FHS--Smith 12-18-2 198; WHS--Dobbins 10-18-2 161.
Receiving: FHS--Gardin 9-180, Ray 1-9, Wakefield 1-9; WHS--Ford 4-32, Poulos 3-61, Baker 3-51, Isaacs 1-17.