In a game where Oakley’s Freedom High School and California High’s offenses shined, it was a stout defensive play that ultimately made the difference for the Grizzlies in their wild, 44-40 win on Sept. 6.
Trailing by four and driving with just over a minute to play, the Falcons offense stalled on the Grizzlies’ 41-yard line, after a fourth-down screen to Matthew Quesada was sniffed out by a pack of Grizzlies, to lift California to 3-0 this season.
The game-deciding defensive display punctuated a back-and-forth contest that saw Freedom erase a 23-point, second-quarter deficit to take the lead midway through the third, before California seized advantage for good, on its ensuing drive.
“It was special just watching our kids continue to battle and put us in that conversation in the last moments,” said Freedom head coach Andrew Cotter. “Obviously, it did not work out the way we had intended, but the kids kept fighting and put us in that situation. I am so proud of those kids; proud to be a Falcon tonight.”
Freedom quarterback Jake Byrne, who finished with 326 yards passing and running back Jordan Lee, who logged 187 yards on the ground, tried to will the winless Falcons (0-3) to victory, but were upstaged by the consistently potent Grizzlies, who torched Freedom all game, including with touchdown runs of 93, 74 and 54 yards.
Freedom battled back from a 23-0 deficit early in the second quarter, to briefly take a 34-30 lead on Byrne’s 1-yard keeper, midway through the third quarter, but Tyler Jarvis’ 11-yard catch on California’s next drive, gave Cal a 37-34 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Freedom, however, didn’t go down easy.
After Giovanni Phillips’ 93-yard scurry vaulted the Grizzlies to a 44-34 lead early in the fourth, Tyler Lepolo’s 2-yard scoring run capped Freedom’s next drive, pulling the Falcons within 44-40, with 9:21 left in the game.
The two teams traded turnovers, and then Cal went four-in-out, but Freedom’s offense didn’t move beyond the Grizzlies’ 41-yard line with 57 seconds left, allowing Cal to run out the clock.
“We thought we had a nice screen play for the fourth and long, and it just didn’t work out,” said Byrne of Freedom’s final fourth-down play. “But I think we’ll be back next week.”
Despite the loss, Cotter said he’s impressed with the team’s progress and fight.
Just when it looked like Cal would run away with an easy victory — up 23 points, one minute into the second quarter — Roy Lee, Jr.’s 76-yard kickoff return cut Freedom’s deficit to 23-7, with 11 minutes left in the second quarter.
Jordan Lee’s 1-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter cut the Falcons’ deficit to 23-14.
After the two teams traded touchdowns, giving Cal a 30-21 halftime lead, Jordan Lee’s 3-yard score on Freedom’s first third-quarter possession pulled Freedom to within 30-28, with nine minutes left in the quarter.
Byrne’s aforementioned touchdown, with about six minutes left, gave Freedom a short-lived, four-point advantage — its first lead all season.
Freedom will look for its first win of the season on the road against Antelope on Sept. 13 at 7:15 p.m.