Freedom Kevin Hartwig was upbeat after the game, despite the loss and the tough first half of the season. “We played hard,” he said. “You know, just (avoiding) a couple of mistakes here and there and we win the game. It comes back to experience and how many times we’ve been in a situation at the end to win a game. That’s the first time probably a lot of these kids have experienced that. So it was a good game. Two evenly matched teams.
“We’ve played them two years in a row and there’s been a battle each year. They are a very good team, well coached. We just didn’t take advantage of our opportunities. On special teams we played awesome tonight. Bobby (Cook) kicked a 43-yard field goal. All we needed to do was get in field goal position there and we win the game or tie the game at least. But mistakes, they kind of got us tonight. We played hard. Our kids battled to the end. I’m very proud of them. That’s probably the most start-to-finish game we played this year.”
Actually, the start could not have been worse for Freedom. On the first play of the game, College Park quarterback Taylor Valdez broke through the line and ran up the middle 78 yards for a touchdown. The game was only 21 seconds old, and Freedom was already down 7-zip. College Park went up 13-0 midway through the second quarter on an 8-yard run by Vince Ferrante.
Freedom didn’t get on the board until there was 1:30 left in the half on almost unheard of event in a high school football game: the aforementioned 43-yard field goal by Cook. Freedom scored again 27 seconds later after a successful onside kick, a 37-yard pass and a 7-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jordan Willis. The extra point kick failed, but Freedom was right back in it, 13-9, at the half.
College Park scored again with 16 seconds to go in the third quarter on a nine-yard Valdez keeper to make it 20-9. But Freedom again scored quickly when Kenneth Walker ran the kickoff back 96 yards for the score. After Willis ran in the two-point conversion, Freedom was again within striking distance, down 20-17 at the end of the third quarter.
College Park scored on another quarterback keeper, this time from 19 yards out, with 7 minutes to go to make it 27-17. But Freedom launched a 61-yard drive that was capped by the highlight of the game: a 16-yard pass from Willis to Walker, who made a leaping catch over a College Park defender in the right corner of the end zone, landing just inbounds. The kick was good, and suddenly, with three minutes left, a crowd that had little to cheer about for much of the game was going crazy, stomping their feet in the stands to energize the players.
A Freedom onside kick gave College Park great field position on the 50. But the Freedom defense shut them down, getting the ball back at midfield with 1:30 left, down by three and a good field goal kicker ready to go. Unfortunately, they were only able to get the ball to the College Park 39 with fourth and 20 and 36 seconds left on the clock when Willis was hit from behind and lost the ball, essentially ending the game.
Asked whether he’s discouraged by the tough season so far, Hartwig responded, “I’m excited. We start fresh. We are zero and zero in league. Anything can happen in league. Preseason is preseason – it’s just for us to tune up. From game one to now is a huge improvement. The Berkeley game, we made eight turnovers. Tonight we didn’t turn the ball over at all. We did some good things. We actually got a passing touchdown tonight. Our kids played hard. I’m excited.”
Freedom has a bye week this and then takes on what may be the team to beat this year in the BVAL: Deer Valley.