By Jeff Odom
Steinbrenner flag football player Alexa Fernandez couldn’t practice in the days leading up to her squad’s matchup at Freedom April 1 because of an eight-day mission trip in Ireland.
Turns out the senior rusher didn’t need it.
With two minutes left in the game, Fernandez intercepted a pass from Patriots (4-1, 3-1) quarterback Missy Dunbar and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown to give the Warriors (4-1, 3-0) a 12-6 win to keep them undefeated in District 16.
“(I was thinking) yes, yes, yes, yes,” Fernandez said. “The whole entire game, I was rusher, and I had the ball at my fingertips constantly, and I was just like I want the pick. Eventually I got it, and it was just the best feeling ever and very exciting.”
Both offenses struggled to find momentum in the first half.
The best opportunity for points in the opening 24 minutes came during Steinbrenner’s opening drive, as backup quarterback Alyssa Dawson connected with wide receiver Justice Thigpen for a 15-yard pass on third down and goal. The senior, however, threw an incomplete pass on fourth down from the 5-yard line.
Dawson finished 11-of-19 for 67 yards and one touchdown to one interception. She filled in at quarterback for Fernandez because of the lack of recent practice time.
“It was definitely extremely hard, because we’ve never seen a defense of that size before,” said Dawson. “They had about three or four girls (6-feet tall), so it was really hard to get the ball and capitalize.”
The Warriors’ defense came through when it mattered the most in the second half.
Junior defensive back Daniela Coffey, who finished with two interceptions, picked off Dunbar to open the third quarter, giving Steinbrenner the momentum needed to get on the scoreboard.
After three straight completions, Dawson found sophomore wide receiver Remi Brantley over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown with 3:38 left to cap off the six-play drive and take a 6-0 lead.
Second-year Steinbrenner coach Gregg Puskas said he was proud of how his team, especially the defense, responded coming out of halftime.
“It’s been nice to control our own destiny, and a big part of that is the defense that coach (Cathy) Tintera has put in,” Puskas said. “We’ve got a lot of speed on defense with 17 or 18 interceptions in our first four regular season games … and they’ve really been giving us good field position and has kept us out of trouble.”
Freedom wouldn’t go down without a fight, though, responding with a score in the fourth.
Dunbar and sophomore Taylor Mort combined for 21 rushing yards before a holding penalty against the Warriors gave the Patriots first-and-goal from the 20. Dunbar (one touchdown, four interceptions) connected with senior Ashle Thompson for an 18-yard gain and then finished the job with a three-yard pass to Mort to tie the score up at 6-6.
Freedom looked poised to take its first lead of the game on its next possession after a 20-yard reception by Veronica Bell gave the team a first down from the 40-yard-line late in the game, but Fernandez’s interception two plays later gave Steinbrenner the lead for good.
“When I played basketball, Freedom beat us four times,” Fernandez said. “Even though it’s not basketball … it’s good to give them a little of our flag football flavor.”
Freedom played Alonso and Steinbrenner played Gaither April 8, but results were not available by press time. The Patriots play at home against district rival Sickles April 11 at 7 p.m., the same date and time the Warriors host District 16 opponent Wharton.