The Falcons scored twice in the first three minutes of Thursday's game and never looked back in a 34-10 victory over the Lions in the 14th annual Bell Game. This is the sixth year in a row that Freedom has earned the right to keep the Bell Trophy, and the team is 10-4 when squaring off against Liberty.
“We had our ups and downs,” head coach Kevin Hartwig said, “but at the end of the day, we just sucked it up and made some big plays.”
However, the game was not without its adversity for the Falcons (9-1, 4-1 Bay Valley Athletic League). In the second quarter, junior quarterback Dante Mayes hurt his right knee on a one-yard run and did not return that night.
Senior receiver Stephen Rodriguez, Freedom’s quarterback in the team’s 2009 Bell Game victory, took over under center after Mayes’ injury. Rodriguez had a rough second quarter, but got into a groove in the second half, finishing 6-for-9 passing with 89 yards and one interception.
“We did it as a team effort,” Rodriguez said. “We all rallied around and kept going.”
Mayes started off hot for the Falcons, which established dominant field position in the first quarter thanks to returns from senior wideout Jordan Sheppard. A two-yard score by sophomore running back Joe Mixon gave Freedom a 7-0 lead on the first drive.
After a Liberty three-and-out, Sheppard returned the punt all the way to the Lions' 29-yard line. Mayes found junior receiver Darrell Daniels for the touchdown on the next play.
The Lions (3-7, 1-4 BVAL) did their best to slow Freedom’s momentum on the next drive. A 57-yard run midway through the first quarter by senior halfback Joseph Canady helped Liberty push deep into Falcon territory. Canady finished things off five plays later on a one-yard run to the end zone. The Lions scored again right before halftime on a 35-yard field goal by senior Kyle Rainsford, but by that point it was already 24-10 in favor of Freedom.
“I love our senior class,” Liberty head coach Nate Smith said. “I feel like they really worked hard all year. I’m really sad to see them graduate and I just wish we could’ve ended on a higher note tonight."
Canady finished with 97 yards on 18 carries. Mixon struck paydirt twice for the Falcons and ran for 43 yards.
Now Freedom must wait for Friday night’s Big Little Game between Antioch and Pittsburg to see how their season ends. Should the Panthers prevail over the rival Pirates, the Falcons would earn their first BVAL football crown.
Touchdowns from Nick Garcia and Joe Johnson allowed Freedom’s JV team to hold on for a 23-16 victory over Liberty.
“I feel good about the season,” said Falcons head coach Don Birk. “They played really well all year long. They showed resilience.”
A late charge by the Lions wasn’t enough to equalize things up on the scoreboard, yet Liberty got solid efforts from Dan Williams and Ivan Oseguera, each of whom scored a touchdown.
“I think the kids learned a lot,” Lions head coach Ramon Jackson said of his team’s season. “They found out who they were.”
Freedom ended its season 8-2; Liberty 2-7.
Bell Games of the future might look more promising for Liberty, as its freshman team claimed a 34-14 victory over Freedom.