Bulldogs face adversity through season, carry through to WPIAL semifinals

Freedom Football wins section title for first time since 1977, finishes season with 11-2 record


Players and coaches gather for group photo after defeating Western Beaver to conclude regular season and become co-section champions with Mohawk. This was the first time the Freedom Football Team has won section since 1977.

Matthew Levenson, Staff Writer

Parents and family filled the stands at Bulldog Stadium on Oct. 26 to support the football players, band and unit members for senior night. A total of 38 seniors walked down the field with their family members by their side. Despite the cold, rainy and windy conditions on the field for the night and the recent news of the arrest of former head coach Russ Barley, the senior Bulldogs took it to the Golden Beavers in their last regular season game, defeating them 33-0.

Senior running back Cody Ross started off the scoring for the Bulldogs with a one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Ross had a dominating performance, finishing the night with 152 rushing yards and a total of two touchdowns. Ross also made four tackles and had an interception on defense.

Senior Noah Yeck was all over the field on both offense and defense. On offense Yeck had 24 receiving yards for a touchdown and on defense he had three tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.

Senior kicker Nick DiNardo went 3-4 for PATs and 2-2 for field goals. During the third quarter, Dinardo lined up for a 44-yard field goal, his second of the night. He drilled the ball down the middle of the uprights to increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 27 points. DiNardo’s field goal broke the school record for longest field goal made in a game.

“It was a great personal achievement for me, but I think of it as a team record and I want to thank my dudes. Perfect snap, perfect hold and perfect blocking,” DiNardo said.

The Bulldogs routed the Golden Beavers by a score of 33-0. The win gave the team a final regular season record of 9-1 and also crowned them Co-Section Champions with Mohawk. This was the first time the Bulldogs have been section champions since 1977.

Following the game, students, band members, cheerleaders and players crowded around the section champions sign on the wall of the elementary school to watch as senior Tanner Boyer climbed the ladder to add 2018 to the sign.

“The attitude of our team was perfect, everybody had the same goal in mind and it was to win no matter what,” Boyer said. “We went through so much this year and we just kept pushing for our goals… We are more than just a team, we are one big dysfunctional family that can’t be broken.”

The following Friday, Nov. 2, the Bulldogs hosted the Avonworth Antelopes for the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. This was the first home playoff game in Freedom history.

Once again, Ross started the scoring with a 16-yard rush for a touchdown in the first quarter. Shortly after, the Antelopes tied the game with a touchdown of their own.

Senior quarterback Zach Rosa broke free from the defense and ran 64 yards down field past the Avonworth sideline for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs the lead once again. Avonworth tied the game before the half but in the third quarter Rosa rushed once again for a touchdown, this time a 22-yard run.

DiNardo made a 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter which capped the Bulldogs’ scoring for the game. Maintaining possession of the ball seemed to be a challenge for both teams with two fumbles from Freedom and three from Avonworth. With four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Avonworth drove down the field.

The Bulldogs stood firm and stopped the Antelopes who went for the first down on fourth instead of kicking a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. A few plays later the Bulldogs fumbled the ball and Avonworth recovered it. Now with just over a minute remaining, the Bulldogs needed to prevent the Antelopes from scoring once again.

With the entire stadium chanting “defense,” they pressured Avonworth’s quarterback into making incomplete passes and again stopped them on fourth down, securing the win. With less than a minute remaining, sophomore Cole Beck was able to take a knee and let the clock expire.

On Nov. 9 the Bulldogs traveled to Central Valley high school to take on Burgettstown in round two of the playoffs. For the third straight game, Ross ran into the endzone to begin the scoring. However, unlike other games this season, that would conclude the Bulldogs scoring for the evening. Burgettstown also struggled to put points on the board kicking one field goal in the first and second quarters. The rest of the game fell on defense. Both Freedom and Burgettstown threw for an interception and both had under 200 yards of total offense. Neither team could get a consistent, scoring drive completed.

In the last few minutes of the game, Burgettstown was driving down the field well within the Bulldogs territory and looking like they were about to take the lead, leaving almost no time for the Bulldogs. Burgettstown fumbled the ball on a run play and it was recovered by Ross. However the Bulldogs were unable to gain a first down, giving the ball back to Burgettstown with just over a minute remaining and zero timeouts left. The Bulldogs held firm on defense and stopped Burgettstown to win the game 7-6. Players jumped and hugged their coaches and friends as they celebrated their victory on the field.

One week later the Bulldogs traveled to Montour for the WPIAL semifinals against Steel Valley. The team’s historic run was cut short as they were defeated 40-0. The Bulldogs struggled to get the running game going against Steel Valley’s defense and they had a multitude of costly turnovers. For the team, the season ended sooner than they had hoped.

However, the team proved a lot this year. Senior Jake Pail rushed for over 1,000 yards, Rosa broke the record for most completed career touchdown passes and most completed touchdown passes in a season. DiNardo broke the longest field goal record, the team played its first home playoff game and became section champs for the first time since 1977. They made it to the semifinals without their head coach and played most of the season after losing their friend and former teammate Seth Weismantle. Underclassmen stepped up and filled important roles which leaves hopes high for next year.

“I’m so proud of this team, we faced so much adversity through the year, and the way that we just rallied to finish off 11-2, it’s great,” Ross said. “Good luck to the guys next year; they got some big shoes to fill.”