San Leandro got off to a hot start in its season opener at Burrell Field against Oakley’s Freedom High School football team last week, but after having its lead cut to 18-13 heading into halftime, the Pirates needed a jolt to not lose the lead.
For San Leandro, it was to make history: to be the first team in school history to beat Freedom.
The halftime lead turned into the final score for San Leandro.
“It was that halftime talk that got us through,” said San Leandro linebacker Osaro Aihie. “Our defensive coordinator was like, let’s be the first team to make history; let’s be the first team to beat Freedom.”
When Jake Byrne and his Freedom offense was threading to tie the game with five minutes left, the San Leandro defense rose to the occasion — specifically, Amari Roberson.
After dealing with a leg injury during the summer, Roberson has been making big plays on defense for the Pirates. Just like his big stop last week in overtime versus Foothill, Roberson caught the interception that set up the last drive for the Pirates against Freedom.
The Pirates’ hot play began in the first quarter where San Leandro didn’t throw the ball once, instead resorted to its plethora of rushing plays that included Aihie, Te’Ron Nix and Ray Vee, with quarterback DJ Bryant showing his mobility.
“We knew we could move the ball,” said San Leandro head coach Bard Bowers. “We wanted to take advantage and get our line situated. We have a lot of young guys there.”
Aihie pounded the end zone with a one-yard touchdown rush to give the Pirates the 6-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Bryant finally got to show off his arm and kept the mobility moving. After scrambling around, Bryant connected with Te’Ron Nix for a 30-yard touchdown pass to put San Leandro up 12-0.
In Freedom’s next possession, the Falcons looked to retaliate, but instead turned the ball over after a dropped backward pass resulted in a fumble where San Leandro made the quick recovery. One play later, Steven Henry brought it home for a 15-yard touchdown run.
Freedom (0-2) responded with a pair of touchdown passes. Next drive, Freedom’s Byrne hit Biz Reifle for a 26-yard touchdown pass, making it 12-6.
Then Matt Quesada’s show was underway. Despite two potential pass interference calls, Freedom’s Quesada still managed to reel in back-to-back passes from Byrne for a combined 78 yards, ending in a 28-yard touchdown reception.
Despite many redzone visits in the second half, Freedom wasn’t able to capitalize.
“We had some bad luck turnovers,” said Freedom head coach Andrew Cotter. “They gotta keep their heads up. They gotta stick together as a family and believe in the process. They have to stay positive where their teammates. We’re going to see what type of character comes out of these kids the next couple weeks.”
The Freedom Falcons next clash with the California Grizzlies in San Ramon on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.