Steel Valley rushing attack to face stiff test against Freedom’s defense in Class 2A semifinals
By: Jerin Steele
Thursday, November 15, 2018 | 5:00 PM
When Steel Valley and Freedom meet in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Montour it has the makings of a matchup that pits one team’s strength against the others.
The third-seeded Ironmen (10-1) boast one of the best rushing attacks in the classification, which has them in the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. No. 7 Freedom (11-1) has relied upon a stingy defense en route to its first semifinals appearance in 15 years.
The Ironmen have two 1,000-yard rushers in Kam Williams and Todd Hill, and they’ve lit up the scoreboard. Steel Valley averages 44.7 points per game, which is third best in Class 2A, and have scored at least 31 points in every game.
Freedom, however, has allowed 9 points per game, the second lowest in Class 2A. The Bulldogs have allowed 7 or fewer points in eight of 12 games, including in a 7-6 win over Burgettstown last Friday.
Needless to say controlling the line of scrimmage will be of the utmost importance.
“We certainly have some guys that can play, but we’ll be going up against our toughest challenge for the year,” Freedom interim head coach John Rosa said. “No disrespect to any of the other teams that we’ve played, but I feel like this is the best team we’ll have seen. They’re talented offensively and physical on defense. We’re going to have to be ready because they are going to come after us.”
Rosa, Freedom’s athletic director, took over the team three weeks ago after previous coach Russ Barley was arrested on child pornography charges and subsequently resigned.
Steel Valley is looking to punch a ticket to the championship for the third straight season. The Ironmen topped Washington, 39-7, last Friday to avenge last year’s championship loss. The Ironmen shut out Beth-Center, 49-0, in the first round.
Being veterans of big-game situations is something the Ironmen hope to use to their advantage on Friday.
“We’re a pretty experienced group when it comes to this game, and I don’t think you can replace experience,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “They know what it means to be in that environment, and that setting that comes with this type of game.”
Williams finished sixth in the WPIAL in rushing in the regular season with 1,749 yards, while Hill, a Howard recruit, finished with 1,503 yards. Hill had three touchdowns in the win over Washington, and Williams scored once. The duo has been a handful all season and will look to make an impact again on Friday.
“They’re just big powerful guys,” Steele said. “Todd has the body of the college football player. He’s a grown man out there. They have speed, a good football IQ and they’re physical. They’ve played in a lot of football games, so they have the experience.”
Freedom has used late-game defensive stands in each of the last two weeks to secure victories. The Bulldogs stopped Avonworth twice in the last four minutes, while clinging to a 24-21 lead. Last week, Burgettstown was down to the Bulldogs’ 20-yard line in the final two minutes, but Cody Ross recovered a fumble to preserve the win. Ross, a Slippery Rock recruit, also had the game’s only touchdown on a 1-yard run.
“Cody is the heart and soul of that defense, but there are a lot of good players around him that do their jobs and allow him to make plays,” Rosa said. “Cody had a big game for us last week, and we’re looking for big things from him this week, but we’re looking for big things from all of our guys. For us to be good, all 11 people have to be in the right spot, because that’s the style of defense we play.”
An area where Rosa said Freedom needs to improve this week is finishing drives. The Bulldogs had three long drives into the red zone last Friday that ended in zero points. A missed field goal, an interception and a turnover on downs derailed drives.
The Bulldogs have had some adversity this season with Barley’s arrest and the unexpected death of former teammate Seth Weismantle in early October. Weismantle, a lineman for the Bulldogs last season, was a freshman at Slippery Rock.
Rosa is proud of the way his players have handled the difficult moments and the way the community has supported the team. They are hopeful they can produce a historic moment Friday and clinch a spot in the championship for the first time.
“We’ve had some emotional times this year, but these kids are a mature group,” Rosa said. “We’ve found a way to overcome the things that have happened to us both on and off the field. When our backs were against the wall, we’ve found a way to come out on top.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.