By BLAKE MCCORMICK
Running back K’wan Powell rushed for 255 yards and three touchdowns while quarterback Rajah Hooks added 172 yards rushing and two scores to lead Freeport to a dominating 48-19 victory over Northview this past Friday night.
The road victory helped the Bulldogs improve to 3-3 overall and sent a spirited student section that made the nearly two-hour trip home happy.
“Big win,” said coach Shaun Arntz following the Bulldogs first meeting with Northview since 2014 as the squad broke a seven-game losing streak to the Chiefs. “To win at Northview, I’ll take it by 29 or I’ll take it by half a point, however they give it to us.”
On the opening kickoff, Isaiah Ward made a solo tackle at the 9-yard line following a bobble by the Northview return man. The Bulldogs forced a punt after three plays but a roughing the kicker penalty gave Northview a first down. The Escambia County squad then drove the ball down to the Freeport 33-yard line before Justin Clark batted away a third down pass attempt to force a Northview punt.
“Justin won our Bulldog Award last year, which is probably the most prestigious award we give our players, and he got it as a tenth grader,” mentioned Arntz about the multi-use junior. “He is, undoubtedly, our most knowledgeable defensive player. He’s a Freeport player. Not the fastest, not the strongest in the weight room, but he gives it every dang thing he has. I don’t know what he does on the weekend, he must just lay down in ice all weekend.”
Freeport took over at their own 5-yard line and escaped peril on second down when Hooks barely escaped a sack in his own end zone before lunging to the 4 yard line. However, on 3rd-and-11, Powell nudged through a hole created by the offensive line and raced off for a 96-yard touchdown. The PAT gave the Walton County club a 7-0 lead with 4:47 remaining in the opening quarter.
The 14-year old’s astonishing night left Arntz grinning. “He’s something else. K’wan had a great night. He ran the ball hard, got into open field, and didn’t let anyone get him.”
However, Northview’s offense, which held the ball for all but 1:24 of the 1st quarter, responded with a 15-play, 84-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Trent Peebles. The PAT tied the game at 7-all with 9:51 remaining in the second quarter.
Hooks and company returned on offense, but the senior tossed an interception on the opening play of the drive giving Northview great field possession at the Freeport 30. Following a 16-yard run by Peebles on first down, Northview quarterback Seth Killam took off on a 14-yard run toward a probable score, but fumbled the ball into the end zone while stretching across the goal line. Cade Layton recovered the loose ball for the Bulldogs, allowing the offense to take over on their own 20 following the touchback.
“We got pushed around a little bit,” stated Arntz about his defense. “But, when it mattered, we bowed our neck and played good.”
Freeport’s offense took over at their own 20 and pushed the ball to the 36 before Hooks was stopped for no gain on 3rd-and-9. On the next play, Clayton Bartlett set up to punt the ball but, instead, tossed a 30-yard completion to an uncovered Cameron Hardee who picked up the first down at the Northview 35. One play later, Powell broke loose on a tough 35-yard touchdown run that gave the Orange-and-Blue a 14-7 lead following the PAT with 7:05 remaining in the second quarter.
Powell’s performance was just getting warmed up. After the defense forced a punt following a promising drive by the Chiefs, the freshman scored again on the third play of the Bulldogs’ subsequent drive with a 31-yard touchdown run. The play was set up by a 42-yard scamper by Zack Johnson behind the blocking of an offensive line that is improving by the week. The PAT stretched the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-7 with 2:41 remaining in the first half.
However, a feisty Northview offense responded with a six-play, 58-yard scoring drive capped by a 21-yard touchdown run by Peebles. The PAT failed, creating a 21-13 score with 1:06 left before intermission. The Bulldogs’ final drive of the half started on the Freeport 28 and moved to the Northview 30 following a 42-yard run by Powell. However, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs four plays later when Powell was brought down for a loss on a 4th-and-10. Northview took over on offense, and ran out the remaining 18 seconds of the half.
Freeport took the opening possession of the second half and scored on the second play as Powell snagged a short pass by Hooks and raced 60 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was converted by Tragen Appelman for a 28-13 lead.
After the Bulldog defense forced a three and out, the offense took possession at the Northview 43 and nudged the ball to the 37 before being forced to punt three plays later. Bartlett’s kick was downed at the 1-yard line setting up coordinator Willie Sand’s defense up for a big defensive play. On the Chiefs’ first offensive play of the possession, Killam attempted to pitch the ball to a teammate with Freeport linebacker Zack Johnson pushing a blocker into the quarterback, forcing a fumble in the endzone that was recovered by Johnson for a touchdown. The extra point gave the visitors from Walton County a 35-13 lead with 7:52 left in the third quarter.
Arntz spoke highly of Johnson, who had three tackles for a loss last week against Graceville. “He’s a spark plug out there. He’s really coming into his own on defense.”
After forcing another Northview punt on the Chiefs’ subsequent possession, Freeport took over at the Northview 49. However, Johnson fumbled the ball away on the second play of the drive. The Chiefs capitalized with an 11-play scoring drive capped by a 11-yard touchdown pass from Kilam to Peebles. The host squad missed the extra point but closed the margin to 35-19 with 26 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
In the final quarter, both teams alternated two possessions before Northview moved the ball into Freeport territory on their third drive of the quarter. However, the promising effort died when Ward recovered a fumble with 2:33 left in the game.
“He’s wanted to play football ever since he’s been in high school and his grandma let him play this year,” said Arntz of Ward, a former drummer in the school’s Sunshine Marching Band. “I’ve been proud of how patient he has been and the work he has done on special teams. I’m so happy he got to get in on the good tonight.”
Freeport closed the game with Hooks posting touchdown runs of 52 and 61 yards on the Bulldogs last two drives. Hooks also snagged an interception on Northview’s final drive.
“Gosh, he’s such a threat all over the place,” mentioned Arntz about Hooks, who couldn’t play last week due to an injury. “He runs well, and he’s got such a good arm, he’s just got to get more comfortable back there passing it. But, in two plays, he gets 100 yards rushing then we put him in on defense for the only time this season, and he gets an interception.”
Freeport(3-3) will travel to Washington County this Friday for a marquee match up against the undefeated Chipley Tigers(5-0) with kickoff set for 7 p.m. at Philip Rountree Stadium.