Keeghan Freeborn’s future lies as a nose tackle after committing to Boise State over the summer.
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Rocky Mountain High senior showed why Friday night, securing the Grizzlies a 13-7 victory at rival Eagle in the 5A state quarterfinals.
Needing one final stop, Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig turned to Freeborn. Culig typically limits him to the offensive line, where he feels he can do the most damage at the high school level. But trying to preserve a six-point lead with 3:11 left in the fourth quarter, he dispatched Freeborn at his college position.
And Freeborn delivered, clobbering Eagle’s center on the first play of a potential game-winning drive to force a fumble. The ball didn’t move more than a yard, and Freeborn pounced on it.
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“I hit him so hard they dropped it. Pretty much, that was it,” Freeborn said with a shrug. “I just remember it was on the ground and I got it. That’s all we need.”
No. 3 Rocky Mountain (8-2) then drained the rest of the clock to hang on for the win and advance to the state semifinals. The Grizzlies will host No. 4 Highland (8-1) at 7 p.m. Nov. 10.
Freeborn’s forced fumble and recovery capped a dominating defensive performance for Rocky Mountain. The Grizzlies held Eagle (7-3) to 175 yards on a wet and sloppy night, created three turnovers and forced the Mustangs to go three-and-out on their first five possessions.
Culig said he installed a new defense on Monday, complete with a series of tweaks and additions to the Grizzlies’ base defense. But he realized later that night he needed to scrap it and turn his players loose.
“I was thinking I was genius, then I realized we just need to line up and play,” Culig said. “We’re fast and we’re good on defense if we just play.”
Cornerback John T’ia set up Rocky Mountain’s first score when he came screaming off the edge for a blindside blitz, walloping Eagle QB Devan Bridgewater to force a fumble that Josh Shaddux recovered.
On the next play, Rocky Mountain’s Will McMullin came off the bench and threw a 30-yard, back-shoulder TD pass to Jerrik Lattimer for the game’s opening score just before halftime.
“At first, I thought I wasn’t going to get there in time. I almost hesitated,” T’ia said. “But then when I realized he was holding on to the ball, I went as fast as I could.”
Rocky Mountain opened the second half with a nine-play, 61-yard drive that Nick Romano capped with an 11-yard TD run to make it 13-0.
Eagle finally found the scoreboard when Nelson Russell punched in a 1-yard TD run with 5:37 left in the fourth quarter. With their offense finally rolling, the Mustangs got the ball back a couple of minutes later, only to have Freeborn blow up the drive on the first play.
Rocky Mountain’s victory sets up a battle in the trenches in the semifinals between two of the state’s top linemen: Freeborn and Highland’s Tommy Togiai, a U.S. Army All-American with offers from Ohio State, USC and Washington, just to name a few.
“They’ve got a stud defensive tackle, we’ve got a stud offensive lineman,” Culig said. “So it’ll be interesting.”
ROCKY MTN. 13, EAGLE 7
RM — Jerrik Lattimer 30 pass from Will McMullin (Kyle Van Tonder kick), 1:29
RM — Nick Romano 11 run (kicked missed), 8:07
EAG — Nelson Russell 1 run (Kaden Williams kick), 5:37
RUSHING — Rocky Mountain: Kyle Van Tonder 14-19, Carter Kuehl 19-97, Will McMullin 1-5, Colby Jackson 4-19, Nick Romano 21-122, Team 4-(-38). Eagle: Devan Bridgewater 10-35, Nelson Russell 3-16, Luke Favillo 16-73, Team 4-(-12).
PASSING — Rocky Mountain: Van Tonder 0-1-0 0; McMullin 1-3-0 30; Jackson 0-3-2 0. Eagle: Bridgewater 7-13-0 63.
RECEIVING — Rocky Mountain: Jerrik Lattimer 1-30. Eagle: Karl Thomas 2-19, Kaden Baskett 4-28, Cam Churchill 1-16.