Bulldogs prepare to begin playoffs as the second seed after finishing their regular season

Teammates hug and lift Garrett Paxton moments after he made the game-winning field goal to keep the team's undefeated season alive and defeat their rival New Brighton.

Matthew Levenson

Teammates hug and lift Garrett Paxton moments after he made the game-winning field goal to keep the team's undefeated season alive and defeat their rival New Brighton.

Matthew Levenson, Staff Writer

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With the regular season complete, the Bulldogs prepare to begin playoffs as the second seed. They finished the regular season with an overall record of 7-3 and a section record of 5-2.
The Bulldogs recorded their second straight shutout on Sept. 20 when they defeated Ellwood City 40-0. The Bulldogs dominated with their running game as they totaled 330 rushing yards on 45 carries. Running back Brett Boyd led the offense with 105-yards and two touchdowns as well as the defense, recording six tackles. Josh Pail, rushing for 87-yards and Max Ujhazy, rushing for 73-yards both scored touchdowns as well.
The following Friday, Sept. 27, the Bulldogs offense struggled to get going after scoring a touchdown on their first drive against the Valley Vikings. Freedom’s backs struggled to move the ball against the Vikings defense and the loss of Ujhazy for the season due to a broken collarbone did not help. After being down 10-7 for most of the third quarter, an interception by Boyd on the Viking’s 11-yard line, led to a two-yard rushing touchdown by quarterback Cole Beck. The Bulldogs would win the game, 14-10.
Week six was a historic night for the Freedom as it was the 1,000th game in school history. Former Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats was also in attendance as the game against the New Brighton Lions won the Steelers Showcase Game of the Week. The Lions scored early, but the Bulldogs responded when Pail rushed in to tie the game near the end of the first quarter. This back-and-forth continued into the fourth quarter, where the two teams came on the field tied with 21 points apiece. After a missed field goal by the Lions, the Bulldogs managed to drive downfield and set-up a field goal to win the game with seconds remaining. The snap was perfect and Garret Paxton’s 23-yard field goal gave the Bulldogs their seventh win of the season.
“I was just trying to zone in and not have anything affect me. I remember I was just lined up and Carter [Slowinski] was holding it. Nothing was going through my head and I couldn’t hear anything,” Paxton said.
The Bulldogs took on the Neshannock Lancers the following Friday, Nov. 11. The Lancers scored early but Freedom’s offense responded with a touchdown by running back Tyrique Campbell. With 1:07 left in the half, Beck completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Pratte, to tie the game 14-14, but the Lancers used the remaining time to score one more touchdown before going into halftime. After the half, the Lancers offense opened up, scoring four more touchdowns against a struggling Bulldog defense. Wide receiver Reiker Welling would break for a 79-yard touchdown, but that was the last score for the Bulldogs. They fell 49-21.
Traveling to Apollo-Ridge to take on the Vikings in week eight, the Bulldogs found themselves struggling once again. Their offense was unable to get anything started. Beck was under heavy pressure from the Viking’s defense and the run-game could not find a groove. 10 seconds into the third quarter the Bulldog’s recovered an Apollo-Ridge fumble and scored minutes later. The Vikings scored again, but the Bulldog’s responded with two touchdowns of their own. One from Campbell, who broke for a 62-yard touchdown, and the other from Pail. This made the score 20-19, Apollo-Ridge ahead, with 2:04 remaining in the game. The Bulldogs went for the two-point conversion but failed to score. The Vikings secured the win, scoring once more before time expired, making the final score 27-19.
The Bulldogs played their last game of the regular season against Western Beaver on Saturday, Oct. 26. Throughout the entirety of the game the Bulldogs struggled on offense, totaling just 77-yards of offensive production. The only points they were able to score came in the third quarter when Paxton made a 34-yard field goal that was set up from a fumble by the Golden Beaver’s punter. The Bulldog’s defense totaled eight sacks but without production from the offense their efforts were to no avail. Western Beaver scored once in the second quarter from a short pass that was broken for a 31-yard touchdown and later in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard fourth-down pass. The Bulldogs fell 13-3.
Coming into the game against Western Beaver the Bulldogs had a chance to tie Neshannock for co-section champions. They needed to beat the Golden Beavers for this to happen. Instead, they will be entering the playoffs as the second seed but with a home playoff game for the first round.
“We just need to want it more. It’s plain and simple. We just don’t have the heart that last year’s team had,” Noah Valles said.
After losing their last three games of the regular season the Bulldog’s look to fix their struggles and return to the high-scoring, aggressive and intense team they were the first half of the season.

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