All-State running back Ronnie Rivers may be gone, but Freedom of Oakley hasn’t lost much on offense compared to last year’s team that won 11 in a row and was top 10 in state until back-to-back losses to De La Salle and St. Mary’s of Stockton. At least that was the main takeaway after watching the Falcons defeat Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland on Friday night. The Dragons probably will lose again in their next game to De La Salle, but shouldn’t be discounted for CIF North Coast Section D3 playoffs where the winner may very well add a CIF state title.
Don’t forget to look at this week’s State Top 25 Weekend Scoreboard.
Game Attended: Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland (No. 37 in State Top 50) at Freedom of Oakley (No. 35).
How Did It End:After a flurry to end the first half that saw O’Dowd score with four seconds left and enabled the Dragons to trail by just 28-21, Freedom took control in the third quarter. The Falcons stopped O’Dowd’s offense on the first series of the third quarter, then had a 94-yard scoring drive for a 35-21 lead. A five-yard penalty for too many men on the field on fourth down extended the drive and then on the next play QB Joey Aguilar lofted a deep pass to Mekel Early that he hauled in for a 68-yard touchdown. The Dragons were stopped again on their next two possessions. Aguilar then added a 3-yard dive into the end zone on a bootleg and 42-21 ended up as the final score. According to Bay Area News Group reporter Tony Gonsalez, Aguilar finished 13 of 26 for 368 yards and four TDs.
Big Picture: Freedom was the second-best team in the CIF North Coast Section last season and lost in the NCS Open Division final to De La Salle of Concord. This performance enhanced the notion that the Falcons should be considered in that mix of teams once again. We still think that San Ramon Valley of Danville is probably the top challenger to DLS in the NCS this season, but Freedom isn’t far behind. League rival Pittsburg has a lot more returning standouts from last season and those two will play in two weeks in their Bay Valley Athletic League opener. If Freedom wins that game, it could then go 10-0 in the regular season once again and perhaps might be the No. 2 seed in the NCS Open if San Ramon Valley loses to DLS when those two meet in a regular season finale. The loser of Pitt-Freedom also seems strong enough that it might be the fourth NCS Open team considering that Clayton Valley hasn’t shown to be as strong as last year when it was the fourth team. Don’t also see the NCS moving up a D2 or D3 team even if it is unbeaten to the Open. For O’Dowd, head coach Napoleon Kaufman knows how important it is to expose the team to competition like Freedom and DLS. Losing these games isn’t what’s important. The D3 bracket in the NCS is not going to be easy to win with others in it like Rancho Cotate, Marin Catholic, Cardinal Newman and Miramonte. And you can’t win another CIF state title without winning that section title first.
Freedom Breakdown: Aguilar is a transfer from nearby Liberty (Brentwood) and throws a deep ball with touch that is hard to describe. And when he misses, it’s usually just an overthrow and not in danger of the interception. On this night, he hit on TD passes of 29 yards to Baylei Coston, 54 yards to Giles Jackson and 20 yards to Richard Kabasinskas and then the final TD pass to Early. Aguilar also had a 91-yard pass to Jaelyn Thomas from his own 6-yard line way down to the O’Dowd 3-yard line. The Falcons ended up not scoring after that play. Jackson lines up in the backfield this year compared to receiver last year, but the other receivers are talented and all can beat one-on-one coverage. It’s still just not quite the same without a dynamic running back like Rivers, and the line up front is just not quite as strong as last season. Defensively, it’s similar. All of the players can get the job done, but there isn’t one player like linebacker Kyle Harmon from last year who was such a strong presence.
Bishop O’Dowd Breakdown: It seemed to take the Dragons well into the second quarter to get used to the great difference in competition from their first three games against Kennedy (Fremont), Justin-Siena (Napa) and St. Mary’s (Berkeley) compared to Freedom. Talk about night and day. They were on a 15-game win streak since their last loss to the Falcons last year that included a CIF D5-AA state titlen win against Valley View (Moreno Valley). This game showed the great gap between some of these lower CIF bowl divisions and D1 and while the Dragons may be better than last year they probably shouldn’t have been in the State Top 50. Ourselves and others who do rankings can’t get carried away by CIF state titles. There are some great players that are on the field for the Dragons, such as Oregon-bound Jevon Holland and quarterback-safety Quinn Brinnon. Holland got beat on one early TD pass as a corner, but it didn’t get him down and he ended up with four catches for 145 yards and one TD as a receiver. Brinnon ended with 211 passing yards. There isn’t much depth, however, and a kid who plays with such passion on both sides of the ball like Brinnon would just be a monstrous hole to fill if he were to get injured. The Dragons also have two huge linemen that would cause a problem for any opponent and that’s Miles Owens (6-7, 315) and Lonnie Turner (6-5, 350). Owens has outstanding technique as a pass blocker and you can see why he’s a D1 college prospect.
Freedom Head Coach Kevin Hartwig: “That was a good, great team that they have and Coach Kaufman does a good job getting them prepared. That was huge (at the beginning of the third quarter). We had to get the stop and then we got our momentum going. We’ve got to clean up some of our mistakes. We got inside the 10 twice, didn’t score and then missed two field goals. We’ve got to work on that before we play Pitt in two weeks.”
Bishop O’Dowd Head Coach Napoleon Kaufman: “I think that for us is that it’s more mental than physical (playing a team like Freedom). We can play good, physical football, but muffing punts, jumping offsides to give them first downs and doing things like that against good teams like this just can’t do. I told them they better buckle up for next week (playing De La Salle). For us, it’s all good. It’s still about winning a CIF state title and that doesn’t happen in September.”
Up Next: Freedom is on its bye week next week before it begins the Bay Valley Athletic League portion of its schedule. The Falcons will host Pittsburg, a team they beat twice last season. We saw the first one at Pitt and it was one of the best games we saw all year. O’Dowd is playing at De La Salle, which probably hasn’t happened since the two schools were both in the same league in the 1980s (we’d have to check). No matter what happens in that game, O’Dowd would then still be a big favorite in Hayward Area Athletic League games that would follow.