After seven seasons of lopsided losses to their neighborhood rivals just up Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., Freedom High’s football team finally has New Tampa bragging rights.
The Patriots used a 99-yard drive in the final minutes, capped by junior Dominick Vazquez’s first rushing touchdown of the season with 1:42 remaining, to knock off New Tampa rival Wharton 12-7 on Sept. 28 in a Class 7A, District 8 clash.
The Patriots’ win was their first of the season, and first over Wharton (now 2-4, 0-3 in 7A-8) since a 16-7 victory in 2009 under coach James Harrell.
When he was told his team had ended a losing streak that long, said Freedom head coach Floyd Graham, who is in his second season, said, “It just blew my mind. I know it’s a huge rivalry with the schools just three miles apart, and a lot of the guys on both teams went to middle school together, so it was a big deal to win this.”
The Patriots (2-4, 1-1) have had problems all season long finishing games, hampered by having to play so many players both ways due to a small roster of roughly 30 players. For the fourth time this season, the Patriots failed to score in the first half, but for the first time, they found a way to score critical second half points and offset a 42-yard touchdown run by Wharton’s D.J. Green that had given the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.
And, they did it with a backup quarterback seeing his first action of the season. With senior signal caller Sebastian Cuevas injured near the end of the first half, junior Jayland Desue, the team’s leading receiver, entered the game under center and led the Patriots to a pair of scoring drives.
The first was topped off by a 10-yard touchdown run by Stanley Elisme, cutting the Wildcats’ lead to 7-6. The second was one Graham may never forget, both for the way it started and the way it ended.
Three plays after taking over on their own 1 yard line with about six minutes remaining, Freedom faced a 4th-and-2 from the 9. Never in 27 years had Graham gone for a fourth down inside his own 10-yard-line. He looked over at defensive coordinator Henry Scurrey, who said “We have to go for it. What do we have to lose?”
So, Graham and the Patriots went for it. As Wharton scrambled out of punt return formation, junior Jeremiah Ashe (left) dashed eight yards on a jet sweep to keep the drive alive.
“I just knew I had to do anything I could for my teammates to help get this win,’’ said Ashe. “I was a little nervous, but I did what I had to do.”
The unlikely conversion created a spark on the Freedom sideline. A few Wharton penalties moved the Patriots along, and Vazquez scored with 102 seconds left to give Freedom its first lead of the season.
Wharton’s last gasp attempt at a comeback ended on an interception by Ashe, who now has had an interception in every game this season.
“It’s one of the best feelings,’’ said Graham. “I can’t stress to you how hard they have played for three weeks and come away with nothing…. They have given everything they had, come into the lockerroom afterwards with blood on their knuckles and so dehydrated. We’ve been so banged up. That makes this extremely special.”
SWIMMING: The future is bright for the Freedom High girls swimming team, which placed third at the Western Conference swim championships in Brandon on Sept 27.
The quartet of sophomore McKaley Goldblum, sophomore Abigail Leisure, freshman Hannah Labohn and senior Genevieve Clark (photo, above right) advanced to the Oct. 6 county championships at Bobby Hicks Pool by finishing in the top two in two medley relays and five individual events.
The foursome finished second in the 200-yard medley relay, and first in the 400 freestyle relay.
Goldblum finished first in two events – the 100 and 200 freestyles – while Leisure and Labohn captured gold in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, respectively.
Clark advanced to the county championships after a second-place finish in the 50 free.
The Freedom boys advancing to individual events at the county meet were freshman Zach Kopel (first in the 200 free, second in the 500 free) and junior Christian Morera (second in the 100 backstroke). Kopel, Morera, senior Cobyn Panarelli and freshman Glynn Morgan took second in the 200 medley relay.
Wharton sophomore Charles Fields is headed to the county championships after a second-place finish in the 50 free, and first-place in the 100 free. He will be joined by sophomore Derek McDonald, junior Jeff Korver and senior Joseph Malone, who swam with Fields on the winning 200 freestyle team.
Senior Raweerat Khunduang led the Wharton girls with a win in the 50 free and a second in the 100 free, while teaming up with junior Juliana Silva and seniors Kyra Okin and Valeria Ramos to take second in the 200 free relay.