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Conversion stop sends Freedom over Independence in 8th annual PAC Senior Bowl

ROYERSFORD >> The Freedom team stopped the Independence squad on a two-point conversion try to preserve a one-point lead late in Sunday afternoon’s 8th Annual Pioneer Athletic Conference Senior Bowl football game. Not too long after that, the contest was called due to lightning, giving Freedom a 21-20 win at Spring-Ford’s Coach McNelly Stadium.

For Freedom’s touchdowns, Marcus Martin ran a 22-yarder, Connor Patania threw 84 yards to Austin Rowley and Aidan Hayward returned an interception 77 yards. Jay Sisko passed 48 and 16 yards to Pottsgrove teammate Khaliym Smith and Travis Pannella dove one yard for the Independence scores.

“It was great,” said Owen J. Roberts’ Martin, who rushed for 56 yards and broke a 14-14 tie with his TD run midway through the third quarter on the first play after Independence lost a fumble on a punt return. “It felt like family with my teammates.”

Independence’s Travis Pannella tackles Phoenixville teammate Alex Washington, of Team Freedom, during the PAC Senior Bowl. (Barry Taglieber – For MediaNews Group)

The game did not start out well for Freedom as it fumbled the ball away on its first possession and Sisko hit Smith over the middle for the 48-yarder to open the scoring late in the first quarter.

“We started out pretty rough,” said Martin, who will play football at Alvernia. “But then we all got into it.”
That didn’t take long as Freedom took a 7-6 advantage just 25 seconds later when Phoenixville’s Patania tossed a short pass to a wide-open Rowley (Perkiomen Valley), who sped untouched down the left sideline into the end zone and Spring-Ford’s Taylor Smith added the first of his three extra-point kicks.

Then Owen J. Roberts defensive end Hayward picked off a pass early in the second quarter and had clear sailing down the middle of the field, while never looking back, for a 14-6 lead.

“I knew it was a pass and I just jumped in,” said Hayward, who is headed to East Stroudsburg. “I just trusted the jets.”

“He timed it perfectly and no one was catching him after that,” added Martin.

Freedom’s Aidan Hayward pursues Independence’s Malik Smith during the PAC Senior Bowl Sunday. (Barry Taglieber – For MediaNews Group)

Independence tied it late in the half when Sisko hit Stephen Brill (Spring-Ford) with a 44-yard completion to the six yard line, Pannella (Phoenixville) scored two play later and Sisko found Brill in the end zone for a two-point conversion.

Then after Freedom regained the lead on Martin’s score, Sisko connected with Smith again from 16 yards out to cut the lead to one. Sisko tried to roll out to his left into the end zone for two points, but had to toss a desperation pass as he was being tackled that was intercepted with 6:41 left in the contest.

The game was called with 5:21 remaining, exactly three hours after a first lightning delay began less than five minutes into the contest.

Independence’s Jay Sisko is knocked out of bounds by Freedom’s Nehemiah Figueroa during the PAC Senior Bowl Sunday at Spring-Ford. (Barry Taglieber – For MediaNews Group)

Sisko, who will play football at Lebanon Valley College, went 8-for-17 through the air for 183 yards and rushed for 107 yards on 23 carries.

“It was definitely a good day, especially with the man-to-man kind of defense,” said Sisko. “Definitely a great game for our backs. And the offensive line did a great job. It was definitely enjoyable, playing against a couple of my teammates and getting to know some other players … one last time around.”

Smith caught three passes from Sisko for 97 yards and another from Boyertown’s Ayden Mathias for 25 yards after not playing as a receiver during the high school season.

“It was definitely fun,” said Sisko. “He (Smith) was a big defensive guy during the season. He was a basketball guy. There were a lot of jump balls and he went up and got them.”

Independence finished with a 17-8 margin in first downs and a 365-200 advantage in total yards. But three Independence turnovers and the two big scoring plays by Freedom proved to be the difference.

“I’ll take a win like that,” said Hayward. “I met a lot of cool guys, made some new friends. It felt good. I missed it.”

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