PLEASANTON -- Joe Mixon said he was in the zone.
The Freedom High football star ran for 281 yards and seven touchdowns, leading his team to a surprising 55-17 win over host Foothill on Saturday night in the first round of the North Coast Section Division I playoffs.
"I was in a zone, and when I'm in a zone you can't take me out of it," said Mixon, who is 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds with explosive speed and power.
The rout sets up an all-Bay Valley Athletic League quarterfinal matchup, with No. 10-seeded Freedom (6-5) traveling to face No. 2 Pittsburg on Friday.
Fast-improving Freedom has won three in a row since a 34-13 loss to Pittsburg on Oct. 25.
Foothill (8-3), the No. 7 seed, was held 20 points below its average by an aggressive and balanced Freedom defense. Mixon menaced the hosts knocking down passes in the secondary as well, nearly picking off two balls.
The game ended with a running clock after Freedom opened up a 48-10 lead in the third quarter.
"We're peaking at the right time," Freedom coach Kevin Hartwig said. "We played a pretty darn good football team. We got after 'em real quick and got some momentum going, and we kind of rolled with it."
Mixon, coming off a one-week suspension for an unsportsmanlike foul penalty, had a huge first half with 208 yards rushing and five touchdowns, scoring on a devastating 80-yard run with 15 seconds left in the half. He weaved through tacklers for about 20 yards before blowing past everyone, upping the lead to 34-10.
Mixon also scored on runs of 4, 19, 1, 1, 58, and 2 yards.
Hartwig said Mixon had been playing on a sore ankle the past three or four weeks. Plus, the week away appeared to heighten his resolve.
"It's just sitting out last week, I think he realized what he missed," Hartwig said of Mixon. "He had some fresh legs tonight, and he did a pretty good job."
Foothill beat Freedom 32-6 on Sept. 6, when they held Mixon in check. Not this time.
"It was a comeback game for us, and it meant a lot to us," Mixon said.
Freedom also got strong play from emerging quarterback Joe Sweeney, who passed for 163 yards, a week after a polished effort in a win over Liberty.
"It is coming together," Mixon said. "We're one team. You gotta believe. We believe in each other. Everybody needs to come hard, and we got to go to work every week."
Foothill played without two-way standout Matt Luey, who suffered an injury in a 41-14 win over Amador Valley in the teams' East Bay Athletic League finale.
Freedom two-way force Patrick Choudja had a big first half, including a sack of Kyle Kearns on a 4-yard loss and a tackle for a 1-yard loss of Cash Connolly.
Freedom 55, Foothill 17
Freedom 13 21 14 7-- 55
Foothill 7 3 7 0-- 17
Free -- Mixon 4 run (Gonzalez kick)
Foot -- Anderson 7 pass from Kearns (Rodriguez kick)
Free -- Mixon 19 run (kick failed)
Free -- Mixon 1 run (Gonzalez kick)
Free -- Mixon 1 run (Gonzalez kick)
Foot -- Rodriguez 36 FG
Free -- Mixon 80 run (Gonzalez kick)
Free -- Mixon 58 run (Gonzalez kick)
Free -- Mixon 2 run (Gonzalez kick)
Foot -- Langley 29 pass from Kearns (Rodriguez kick)
Free -- Rivers 3 run (Gonzalez kick
Rushing: Free -- Mixon 22-281, Rivers 13-66, Sweeney 4-5, Thompson 1-16, Johnson 2-4. Totals 45-372. Foot -- Gates 4-36, Floyd 4-28, Connolly 6-8, Langley 3-5, Kearns 3-(-8). Totals 20-69. Passing: Free -- Sweeney 11-15-0 161. Foot -- Kearns 14-27-1 152, Hadley 1-2-1 15. Totals 16-29-2 167. Receiving: Free -- Garcia 2-55, Thompson 3-68, Mixon 1-24, Allen 2-15, Sanders 2-5, Rivers 1-(-4). Totals 11-161. Foot -- Anderson 6-54, Langley 5-59, Connolly 2-37, Floyd 1-15, Mercado 1-2. Totals 15-167. Fumbles/lost: Freedom -- 0/0, Foothill -- 1/0. Records: Foothill 8-3, Freedom 6-5.