Steel Valley rolls past Freedom in WPIAL Class 2A semifinals

By: HSSN Staff
Friday, November 16, 2018 | 11:30 PM

Murphy’s Law is an adage that states “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” That axiom came to fruition for Freedom on Friday night.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it came at the worst time possible — the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals — and brought their season to a crashing halt.

Steel Valley forced four first first-half turnovers, returning two for touchdowns, as it rolled to a convincing 40-0 victory over Freedom on Friday night, in the process earning a third consecutive trip to the WPIAL championship game. The Ironmen will meet South Side next Saturday in the WPIAL Class 2A championship game at Robert Morris University’s Joe Walton Stadium.

“We forced them into a game plan where they had to do things they don’t normally want to do,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “Our defense was very opportunistic, and we were able to take advantage.”

Steel Valley took control early, taking the opening kickoff and driving 60 yards in seven plays, capped by a 17-yard TD run by quarterback Ronnell Lawrence. Seconds later, on Freedom’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Zach Rosa tossed the ball to Cole Beck, who attempted to pass the ball back to Rosa. However, the ball was tipped, and fell into the hands of Steel Valley’s Dionte Williams, who returned it 15 yards for a score and a 14-0 lead.

“We got good pressure on the quarterback, and the ball fell right into my hands,” Williams said. “We always practice to be aware of the trick plays; we just stuck with our fundamentals and stayed where we needed to be.”

Williams said he sensed at that point, for all intents and purposes, the game was in control.

“We knew right there the game was over,” Williams said. “We could see it in their eyes; they didn’t want any more.”

“When you’re playing against a defense that was playing the way ours was, and seeing us take two turnovers back, I’m sure it did have an effect on them,” Steele said. “Psychologically, that has to have an effect.”

After Steel Valley extended its lead to 20-0 on a 1-yard run by Todd Hill, the Ironmen’s defense struck again. Steel Valley stripped Rosa of the ball, and Nahki Johnson scooped it and scrambled 43 yards for a TD and a 27-0 halftime lead. It was part of a tremendous performance by the Steel Valley defense, as it limited Freedom to a mere 3 yards on the ground.

Offensively, Todd Hill led Steel Valley with 114 yards rushing and scored three TDs on runs of 1, 16 and 25 yards.

Steel Valley captured the WPIAL championship in 2016 before falling in the title game last season to Washington. The Ironmen wanted the opportunity to get that gold trophy back all season.

“It’s all we’ve thought about,” Williams said. “We’ve talked about getting that trophy back since the off-season and now we have the opportunity.”

“The goal is always to play for a championship,” Steele said. “That never changes.”

For Freedom, the game brought to a close one of the best seasons in school history, but also one of the most tumultuous. One of its former players, who graduated last year, died during the season, and then the Bulldogs were sent reeling when first-year coach Russ Barley resigned just before Week 9 after some serious criminal charges.

Athletic director John Rosa stepped in and led Freedom for the last three weeks.

“We were 11-2 and had one of our best seasons ever,” Rosa said. “When I think about what these kids have gone through, to end up in the WPIAL semifinals, you’ve got to be pleased with that.”

“I give that team all the credit in the world,” Steele said. “When you look at the adversity they’ve gone through; that was a very good football team.”

Jim Equels Jr. is a freelance writer.

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