Freedom Tops Lions In Shootout at Sun Bank Center
TRENTON – The Trenton Freedom overcame a rocky second quarter and remained unblemished at the Sun Bank Center with a 66-63 victory over the Columbus Lions Saturday. This was the first out-of-conference game for the Freedom, who improved to 2-1 with the win.
“We knew we would win by three coming out after the half,” Head Coach Kevin O’Hanlon said after the game. “We really did, when we scored right away we still knew we had the discipline to control the ball enough because we knew they would try an onside kick and there wouldn’t be enough time.”
In that second quarter, the Freedom fell behind Columbus (2-2) by a score after a Kendrick Perry (10 rushes 47 yards) plunged in from a yard out. Columbus recovered the ensuing kickoff after the kick caromed of a Freedom player and retained possession. Columbus quarterback Antwon Young (19-34, 297 yards 7 tds) connected on his first score of the quarter with a 43-yard strike to Charles Gilbert. Landis Williams pulled Trenton back within a score with his second touchdown of the game, an 18-yard reception from Warren Smith.
“It’s nice having him back.” O’Hanlon said of Williams who missed the last game due to injury.
Both teams scored again then a wild sequence of turnovers changed the complexion of the game. Gerrard Bryant stripped Young and Jeffrey Morgan recovered and gave Trenton possession deep inside Columbus’ territory. On the first play from scrimmage, Damian Daniels’ snatched a Warren Smith pass for his 100th career interception and possession for the visitors. Young dropped back to pass from his own end zone, and in the face of pressure by Marques Slocum heaved a pass into the stands. There was one problem. There was no receiver in the vicinity creating an intentional grounding call and a safety for the Freedom. The two points cut the halftime deficit to five points.
“We know how this arena game is, there is going to be a lot of possessions a lot of offense plays,” Landis Williams said when asked about pressure of playing from behind. “We know being down two scores isn’t a big deal, we just kept our composure and came back after halftime and put a solid half together.”
Jerome Hayes did his part in making the Columbus lead disappear, the linebacker stepped in front of a Young pass and raced 39-yards to the Columbus one-yard line. Melik Brown scored his first of two touchdowns of the day on the next play.
“It was nice,” O’Hanlon said of Hayes’ interception. “Had he scored it would have been better, instead of trying to run the guy over.”
Once the Freedom gained possession of the lead, O’Hanlon leaned on his running game as much as possible.
“Warren (quarterback Warren Smith) didn’t have the greatest of games,” O’Hanlon said. “At the beginning of the game he was going 900 miles an hour and we were trying to calm him down. We also wanted to control the clock. We knew we had to throw more when they were up a score, we were trying to keep their offense off the field so we ran the ball in spots that we could run, almost like playing defense with our offense.”
When Trenton had to pass Williams was a focal point of the attack. After a four-touchdown performance, the receiver treated it as another day at the office.
“I just really let the game come to me, it never was a point when I felt I was the go to guy,” Williams said. “I just know when my plays are called I try to win every rep.”
The defensive front did a fine job of keeping pressure on the mobile Young in the second half.
“We went with a new rotation up front,” O’Hanlon said. “Marques had a little bit of an injury (sickness) he has been fighting off dehydration so we put Melik in there. We were looking for mismatches and we got the mismatches we needed, and it freed up Gerrard Bryant a lot. Gerrard is a helluva d-tackle, the guy that we originally cut argued for us to sign him (Gerrard) and thank God he argued with us.”
When talking about the defensive philosophy changes O’Hanlon added.
“Melik was a big part of it,” the coach continued. “We ran a lot of man (in the first half) we changed to a lot of two corner and two safety, we stopped blitzing because they were killing us with the fullback so we spied him. They weren’t able to hold off Girard Bryant, Melik Brown, and our nose tackle, who is not there to get sacks, collapsed the pocket and forced one on ones and we won the battles.”
After two games of special teams (kicking) miscues, Trenton received a solid performance out of their third kicker of this young season, Shawn Leo.
“We gave Lehigh Valley (last week) the ball at our 20 yard line with bad kickoffs,” O’Hanlon said. “It happened once tonight, so if you ask me, that kicker needs a pay raise.”
Trenton travels to Lehigh Valley next week before hosting the Richmond Raiders May 3 at Sun National Bank.
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