TAMPA — Sickles needed a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter to escape Freedom 7-3 on Homecoming and remain in the hunt for a Class 7A, District 8 title.
Gryphons coach Patrick Murphy knew that facing the Patriots would be a battle. Freedom (1-4, 0-2) came into the game with one of the top defenses in the area, giving up just over eight points per game
"We knew this would be a tough one. Freedom is a very good football team with some great pieces that can really hurt some teams," he said.
The Patriots (1-4, 0-2) got on the board in the second quarter when Jose Batista booted a 43-yard field goal. Sickles responded on its next possession with a nine-play drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown plunge from senior Brandon Davis.
The Gryphons (4-1, 2-0) looked to extend the lead in the third quarter when junior quarterback Joseph Sandorf hit senior Rolando Linares (three catches, 45 yards) over the middle for 36 yards to drive deep into Freedom territory. The tough Patriot defense held as Sickles was unable to convert a fourth and 2 from the 5-yard line.
In the fourth quarter, after a personal foul extended a drive, the Patriots resorted to some trickery. Senior Jeremiah Ashe hit Eric Adler on a halfback option to take Freedom to the 7-yard line with just under two minutes to play. The Sickles defense stiffened, stuffing three consecutive runs and forcing an incompletion on fourth down to seal the game with 14 seconds left.
"Our defense is really playing well right now. We are a defense that has to have all 11 doing their part and they are," said Murphy
Both teams continue district play next week, with Sickles hosting a potentially pivotal game vs. Plant, while Freedom battles New Tampa rival Wharton.