Riverside’s Hughes puts leadership on display, keying 28-21 win over Freedom

NORTH SEWICKLEY TWP. — Leadership is a trait not easily defined but can be very easy to see.

Take Riverside senior quarterback Sam Hughes as an obvious instance. His numbers alone against Freedom Friday night would not qualify him for too many leaderboards.

He rushed 13 times for 38 yards, completed 6-of-12 passes for 111 yards and recovered a fumble.

But it was his efforts beyond those numbers that led the Panthers to a come-from-behind 28-21 win that improved the Panthers to 3-1 overall and a share of the WPIAL 2A Midwestern Conference lead.

“All our kids did a great job,” said Riverside coach Fran Ramsden. “And Sam is having his best year. He’s playing a complete game and I’m extremely happy for him.”

Hughes started to put that complete game together just before halftime.

Freedom’s Damian Grunnagle had scored with just 1:09 left in the first half to give Freedom a 14-7 lead when Hughes took over. He engineered a 65-yard, six-play drive with 10 seconds to spare with a pass to fellow senior Noah George of 29 yards on a fourth down and one play.

The extra point after Robert Janis’ touchdown was missed but Freedom’s last lead of the night lasted just minutes into the second half. Riverside took the second half kickoff and marched 43 yards in six plays with Hughes passing to Ayden Garcia for a 10-yard scoring play, then Hughes ran in the two-point conversion.

Riverside’s final touchdown was set up when Hughes picked up a fumble and returned it to the 5-yard line. One play later, he rushed the final four yards for the score.

Grunnagle did score again with 5:05 left to bring the Bulldogs within one score, but instead of a comeback, Hughes’ leadership was on display. Using the 40-second clock masterfully, he didn’t give Freedom the ball back until there were 26 seconds left.

A week after winning a game over Mohawk with just nine seconds left, Hughes didn’t mind watching the clock tick this week.

“it’s easy to watch the seconds tick off when you’re ahead,” said a smiling Hughes, who has been a starter since he was a freshman. “I just tried to keep everything under control.

“This was a hard-fought win and I don’t think a lot of people expected us to stack wins this year after last year (the Panthers were 1-8). We knew in the off season that this wasn’t going to be the same kind of season as last year.”

To many in the stands, it didn’t look all that different early. Freedom, now 2-3, 1-1, took the opening kickoff and kept the ball for half the quarter before turning it over on downs. The defense held, though, as Freedom got the ball back and Kendall Komara scored from the 1-yard line with 1:46 left in the first.

However, Riverside responded immediately with an 8-play drive with Janis scoring to set the tone for the rest of the comeback.

Janis finished with 140 yards rushing with two TDs while Grunnagle led Freedom with 60 yards rushing and two scores. Freedom quarterback Ty Schultheis passed for 167 yards and Cody Patterson had 100 yards receiving.

“After last year, winning games at the end is all new to these guys,” said Ramsden. “Our offense is built around making explosive plays as we can and we did that tonight.

“Sam makes it work.”

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