The Morning Call
An encore performance
Emotional Nazareth hangs on to beat Freedom, repeat as champion
The first half of Friday night’s District 11 Class 6Achampionship gamefollowed the pattern of the first meeting between Nazareth and Freedom.
In the second half, the teams combined for 50 points, but it was a defensive play that sealed the Blue Eagles’ second consecutive championship.
Dominic Felician intercepted a fourth-down pass on the game’s last play of what was a 37-29 victory at Whitehall’s Zephyr Stadium.
“Words can’t even explain it,” Felician said still clutching the ball. “I’m so happy right now.”
Nazareth completed an improbable 7-0 season and first unbeaten record in 53 years by rallying from a 9-0 firsthalf deficit to take the lead on Felician’s 91-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter.
“He’s watching down on us right now,” an emotion Blue Eagles coach Tom Falzone while holding a photo of his father, Joe, who passed away earlier this fall. “It’s a pretty emotional moment right now.”
Though the Blue Eagles never trailed again, the Patriots never went away.
Felician gave Nazareth the lead for good (14-9) by returning the second-half kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown.
“It was great blocking and a lot of holes,” the senior said. “I knew one cut and I could be gone.”
“He’s done that to us a lot in practice,” Falzone added. “I was wondering when he was going break one in a game.”
Freedom never went away, though. Trailing 21-9, the teams exchanged scores on the next six possessions.
The Patriots kept their hopes alive by blocking the extra point after Tyler Rohn’s 1-yard TD run with 8:13 left.
After the teams exchanged punts, coach Jason Roeder’s club mounted a drive aided by two pass interference penalties.
But Freedom came up one play short.
“We expected nothing else,” Roeder said of his team’s fight. “Anything less and we’d be disappointed.
“The kids battled for four quarters. It was a close game, but that’s not enough here. I feel awful for the seniors.”
Nazareth has won 15 games in a row dating back to last season. It is their fifth district title.
Freedom has been in four of the last five 6A finals, winning in 2018.
Freedom did exactly what Falzone was concerned about by dominating play early on both sides of the ball.
The Patriots defense did not allow a first down until the 7:38 mark of the second quarter.
Deante Crawford bounced outside left to turn a short gainer into a 22-yard touchdown run on Freedom’s third offensive series. A defensive holding call helped.
George Ferrey added a 32-yard field goal with 8:31 left in the first half, but Nazareth appeared to gain momentum on the last three plays, which concluded with a Sonny Sasso sack, which forced the field goal. Joe Capobianco had a solid tackle for minimal game on the previous play for the Blue Eagles.
In the teams’ first meeting, Nazareth dominated the first half and pushed its cushion to 21-0 on the first series of the third quarter of what became a 21-7 victory.
Crawford finished with 135 yards and three touchdowns. He also had three scores in last week’s semifinal win over Easton.
Shift in momentum
Nazareth found somerhythm on its first series of the second quarter, but that drive ended on consecutive sacks by Freedom’s strong front.
The Blue Eagles finished things on their fourth drive. A 36-yard completion from Matt Bugbee to Joe Capobianco got them in the red zone. Three plays later, Bugbee scored from the 1-yard line with 9 seconds left in the half.
Three Patriots defensive penalties aided the drive. Two were accepted. Athird negated a holding call on the Blue Eagles that would have put them in a first and more than 25 yards situation.
Nazareth’s first three drives netted five yards.
Back in action
Senior Matt Russin returned for Freedom after missing the team’s semifinal win over Easton with a leg injury.
His first contribution was a four-yard sack of Bugbee to end Nazareth’s third series to start the game without a first down.
Russin, who had 477 rushing yards and five TDs this season before Friday’s game, managed 13 yards on four carries Friday.
Morning Call reporter Tom Housenick can be reached at 610-820-6651 or at firstname.lastname@example.org