Football team starts season 1-1 with coaching changes


Luke Snavely

Senior quarterback Cole Beck prepares to throw the ball and get the offense rolling against Riverside on Sept. 18.

Before their first scrimmage game, the Freedom Football Team had been eagerly waiting to get back on the field for around 302 days, since their playoff defeat against Washington. Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, players and coaches, as well as fans, feared that the wait would be even longer. Fortunately, for those people, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) has allowed all fall sports to continue despite the ongoing pandemic.

With countless hours of practice and training, this year’s football team expects to have another monumental season. Returning seniors Cole Beck, Brett Boyd, Tyrique Campbell, Wyatt Davis, Jalen Foster, Jimmy Happ, David Martsolf, Garrett Paxton, Brandon Pratte, Jake Simmons, Ashton Spiegel, Paul Thompson, Reiker Welling and James Wingrove plan to continue the recent chain of historic Freedom Football seasons. Last year, the Bulldogs went 8-4, giving the team yet another winning season to add to their repertoire and another opportunity to play in the playoffs.

On Sept. 5, players finally got the opportunity to return to the field in a practice-type scrimmage at Western Beaver. At first, coaches were on the field, and teams had 10 plays to get to the end-zone. After each team had two possessions, the scrimmage shifted into more of a real game with official rules.

Western Beaver took advantage of the shift of game style and scored a touchdown on their fifth possession. Freedom quickly recovered with senior quarterback Beck throwing the first touchdown pass of the season to junior Tristen Clear. Western Beaver would later score one more touchdown, sealing the final score for varsity.

The junior varsity team also got some action on the field towards the end of the scrimmage. Overall, the scrimmage was great preparation for the official games to come. 

On Sept. 11, Freedom looked to start off their season right with a win against New Brighton, who put up a tremendous fight last year in the Steelers’ Showcase Game.

To begin the game, both teams were off to a very slow start. With just five minutes and 10 seconds left in the first quarter, the Lions struck first with a 30-yard passing play, resulting in a touchdown. With momentum shifting towards the Lions, the Bulldogs had to make a huge play.

With eight minutes and 24 seconds left in the second quarter, the Lions fumbled the ball on their own 20-yard line. Sophomore Damian Grunnagle, who led the team with nine tackles, picked up the ball and rushed into the end-zone, scoring the Bulldogs’ only touchdown. After a Lions’ flag on the extra point attempt, the Bulldogs elected to go for two. Unfortunately, this risk did not pay off, making the score 7-6 Lions.

The Lions would later score a touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter, making the score 17-6 Lions in the first half. With a low scoring second half, the Bulldogs ultimately could not come back. The final score was 24-6 Lions. This was a game of turnovers; the Bulldogs had three turnovers and the Lions had two.

“I think for the rest of the season, we just need to work and get a little better. I think we can come out and become a better football team than today,” Grunnagle said after the loss. 

Due to certain circumstances and a variety of reasons, head coach Greg Toney resigned from the team after the team’s loss to New Brighton. Almost all of the coaching staff departed from the team as well.

Freedom Area School District’s Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Fuller said, “My hope and my expectation was that coach Tony was going to remain our football coach and our team was going to remain intact. You know, it’s unfortunate that didn’t happen, but we have to make the best of the situation for the student athletes and make sure their season continues.”

Athletic director, John Rosa, filled the vacancy for the head coaching position. This meant that the football team has had seven different head coaches in a span of just 13 years. Rosa is no stranger to the head coaching spot, since he served as the interim head coach in the 2018 season. Rosa also served as the head coach for the Bulldogs from 1996 to 1998.

When asked about Rosa filling in as the interim head coach, Fuller said, “The board did appoint Mr. Rosa as interim head coach. It’s not his desire to maintain that position permanently, and so our goal was to get a coaching staff in place as quickly as we possibly could. Mr. Rosa agreed, reluctantly agreed, to take on the role as interim head coach.”

In an interview with Fuller, one idea was clear: the unfortunate string of events should not affect the Freedom football student athletes’ season.

“Our goal is always to provide the absolute best program to our students, whether that’s student athletes or on the academic side,” Fuller said. “And so we have to figure out how to get by this and move on, so that we can continue to support our kids, have a good program and allow them to have a good football season.”

Leading up to their matchup against Riverside, the team learned whole new offensive and defensive schemes. Even though this was a tough task, the boys stepped up to the plate and took the challenge with high hopes.

On Sept. 18, the Bulldogs looked to gain their first win against the Riverside Panthers. The game started off very slow for both teams, as they were each picking up penalty flags quite often. Throughout the whole first half there was no score; both defenses played exceptionally well. 

The first real scoring opportunity came with just seconds left in the first half. Riverside had worked down the field to get to the Bulldogs’ four-yard line. With only three seconds left in the half, the Panthers made a controversial decision to go for the end zone instead of attempting a field goal. This risk did not pay off because the Bulldogs’ defense made a great goal line stand. 

The second half started much like the first half: many flags for both teams, great defense and a slow pace. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the ball on the 6 yard line, Beck threw a 94-yard touchdown pass to Welling to make the score 7-0. 

Feeding off this momentum, the Bulldogs went on to force a turnover on downs on the very next drive to get the ball in a good scoring position. On the first play of the drive, Welling had another touchdown catch and made the score 14-0. 

An interception by Campbell put the Bulldogs on the Panthers’ 3-yard line. On the very next play, Beck once again found Welling in the end-zone for Welling’s third score of the night, sealing the final score of 21-0. This was a great win after the tough week the Bulldogs had faced. 

“We just need to keep doing what we do,” Clear said after the game. “We’ve had a lot of changes and a lot of adversity. We’re overcoming that pretty well.”

The Bulldogs hope to continue their season in the best way possible and continue to defy all odds.