Freedom rising, but face tough test in Columbus
TRENTON, N.J.--The Freedom are pulling off a similar run to last season's team. The team won six games in a row after a 2-2 start in 2014, and this year, it's won four of its last five games. Three of those four wins have been on the road.
The offense has outscored opponents 244-195 in the five-game span, but the defense has been the key.
It's generated 16 turnovers (11 interceptions, five fumbles recovered) during that span. To put that into perspective, the Freedom only had seven interceptions and nine recovered fumbles all of 2014.
Head Coach Kevin O'Hanlon owes the recent success to his work throughout the year with Defensive Coordinator Ryan Sloth. Sloth's defense is going hand-in-hand with the Freedom offense at the right time.
"You've got to steal possessions," O'Hanlon said. "That's so big and our offense is so potent. Coach Sloth has [the defense] hitting on all cylinders. They gave up zero touchdowns through the air (versus Lehigh Valley). And when you put the ball in Steve's (Panasuk) hands, he's hitting on all cylinders."
The Freedom face the first-place Columbus Lions on Saturday June 13. This will be the team's fifth road contest in the past six weeks. The Freedom lost 70-60 in one of the most challenging defensive performances all year on April 4.
There have been a lot of positives with the defense compared to the previous contest, but all O'Hanlon is thinking about is taking it one game at a time.
"It's game 11," he said. "That's all we're excited about. We're game planning for Columbus, but we've made a conscious effort to make it so it doesn't matter who's on the schedule. There's a little chatter about what we need to do to make the playoffs. And this is where Hunter Wanket was massive. [He said] 'If we win, we don't have to worry about it.' That's all the guys are thinking. Let's keep winning."
For players, it's about getting off to a fast start and not pumping the brakes or putting it on cruise control. They've scored 59 more points this season in the second half than in the first (290-231).
Guys like linebacker Vaughn Carraway saw how well the Freedom played in Lehigh for a full 60 minutes. He hopes it can carry over for the rest of the 2015 season.
"I feel if we start the game as fast as we finish, we can win every game," said Carraway. "We're a strong-finishing team. If we start how we finish, we can be the best. It all comes on us, and then we have the opportunity to compete for a championship this year."
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