*Photo gallery by Bill Normile*

MIDDLETOWN - For the past two years, Freehold senior Josh Dixon has often been left out of the discussion about the Shore Conference's best running backs while the Colonials struggled in the win column.

In Friday night's season opener on the road against Middletown North, Dixon and his Freehold teammates decided they were no longer going to take a backseat to anyone. Dixon exploded for 217 yards and all four of the team's touchdowns on 21 carries to ignite a 26-14 win over the Lions (0-1, 0-1) to give the Colonials (1-0, 1-0) their first win in the season opener in five years.

"Nobody believed in us to win this game, and we proved them wrong,'' Dixon said. "We're going to keep on proving people wrong until they give us respect."

Senior Josh Dixon powered Freehold to a season-opening, 26-14 win over Middletown North with 217 yards rushing and four touchdowns. (Photo by Bill Normile)

On the heels of a 2-8 season in which they started 0-6, the Colonials went on the road and knocked off a Middletown North team that qualified for the state playoffs last year for an early statement in Class A North after being realigned into the division from Class B North.

"We told our kids that they were going to have to earn everything they got this year, that no one was going to give them anything,'' said Freehold head coach Dave Ellis. "We were picked to lose across the board, and some of the seniors stood up before the game and really had an emotional speech. They talked about not wanting to lose any more and wanting to turn it around.

"They came together in that locker room before the game, and they made the decision that they were going to leave it all on the field and they were not going to lose tonight."

The Lions feature the Shore Conference's top returning passer, sophomore Donald Glenn, as well as 1,000-yard rusher Chad Freshnock, but Freehold stifled Glenn and limited the damage done by Freshnock despite a huge statistical game. Freshnock exploded for a career-high 250 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 23 carries, but the Colonials' defense came up with four turnovers while forcing Glenn into 11-for-26 passing for only 64 yards and a pair of interceptions.

"We had to get pressure on the quarterback, stop the short (passing) game first and worry about the long game second,'' said junior outside linebacker Jamel Smith-Rush, who had a sack and a first-quarter fumble recovery that set up a touchdown. "When we needed a stop, we got it."

Freehold never trailed in the game, but the pressure ratcheted up on the Colonials when Freshnock dove into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run that cut their lead to 20-14 with 8:31 left in the game.

Freehold's offense was sputtering with only nine total yards in the second half at that point, but on the second play of its ensuing drive, Dixon delivered the knockout punch when he broke free for a 60-yard touchdown with 7:50 left in the game.

"That was lights out, game over,'' Smith-Rush said.

"Josh is a home run hitter,'' Ellis said. "He can go at any time. When it looks grim, and we're getting one yard or no yards, he goes. He's worked very hard this year. He deserves every bit of it."

The defense took care of the rest, stopping the Lions on downs twice and continuing to disrupt the passing game. Dixon also had a strong game with an interception at cornerback, where fellow senior Jah'sim Fenn also helped squash the Lions' passing game. Junior Jake Curry, who also is the starting quarterback, added an interception at safety.

"We mixed up our coverage a little bit,'' Ellis said. "I think we gave up more running yards than we wanted to, but our strength is in our secondary. Those guys are as good as anyone in this division. We were able to get some pressure and let those guys make plays back there."

Smith-Rush made a play on the first snap from scrimmage in the game that helped set the tone for the night. Glenn threw a pass behind the line of scrimmage to wideout Jordan Pitts, who lost control of the ball, and Smith-Rush pounced on the fumble at Middletown North's 25-yard line. After Curry converted a third-and-10 with an 18-yard pass to Dixon, the senior tailback rumbled in from six yards out two plays later for a 6-0 first-quarter lead after the extra point was blocked.

The Freehold defense then came up with a pair of stops, including Curry's interception, before the Colonials took a 13-0 lead. On third-and-2, Dixon broke two tackles at the line of scrimmage, juked several defenders and took off for a 53-yard touchdown with only 13.6 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Lions countered two plays later when Freshnock went off the left side and zoomed 66 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter to cut it to 13-7.

Following a scary moment with 3:57 left in the half when Middletown North wide receiver Keshawn Williams had to be removed by ambulance after taking a big hit, Dixon demoralized the Lions with his third touchdown run of the half. The Colonials looked like they would just run out the clock to go into the locker room, but Dixon had other plans when he rattled off a back-breaking, 51-yard scoring run with only 8.6 seconds left in the half for a 20-7 lead at the break.

"Josh is a very strong kid, and he's a leader,'' Ellis said. "He came out tonight and he refused to go down."

That was all the points the Colonials would need on their way to a confidence-boosting win. They now take on rival Freehold Township next week, as their Thanksgiving rivalry was moved to earlier in the season. The Patriots picked up a 40-20 win over Howell for their own impressive opener on the heels of a 1-9 season, so it will be a chance for one of the teams to emerge as the early surprise squad of Class A North. Freehold goes in with a head of steam coming off its first season-opening victory since 2009.

"It's a big boost,'' Dixon said. "We're coming for everybody."

"Coming out with a big win like this, it's telling the A North that we're not scared to come into this division,'' Smith-Rush said.


Box score

Freehold 26, Middletown North 14

.                                  M                    F

First downs               14                  7

Rushes-yards         32-248             36-202

Passing                   11-26-2            3-10-0

Passing yards          64                     21

Penalties                3-25                 4-37

Fumbles-lost           2-2                 2-1

Freehold (1-0, 1-0)         13 7 0 6 - 26

Midd. North (0-1, 0-1)       7 0 0 7 - 14

Scoring summary:

F: Dixon 6-yard run (kick failed).

F: Dixon 53-yard run (Curcio kick)

M: Freshnock 66-yard run (Banta kick)

F: Dixon 51-yard run (Curcio kick)

M: Freshnock 10-yard run (Banta kick).

F: Dixon 60-yard run (pass failed).

Individual statistics

Rushing - M: Freshnock 23-250, Pitts 3-(-23), Glenn 6-0, Thompson 1-15, Borrero 2-6. F: Dixon 21-217, Worthy 3-(-15), Curry 12-0,

Passing - M: Glenn 11-26-2 64. F: Curry 3-10-0 21.

Receiving - M: Wilkerson 2-8, Freshnock 3-5, Williams 1-6, Pitts, 1-11, Gomez 3-28, Thompson 1-6. F: Dixon 1-18, Worthy 2-4.

Interceptions - F: Dixon 1-5, Curry 1-15.