With the change in football classifications last season, the WPIAL gave its schools the option of replacing their second scrimmage with a game, creating Week Zero. Though a few teams kept to the status quo, some took advantage of the opportunity to add another game to their schedule.
But even its second season of existence, some coaches are still skeptical including Freedom Area head coach Tom Liberty.
“I have my pros and cons.”
There were a lot of cons when Freedom hosted Hopewell last season in Week Zero. In Liberty’s first game as head coach, the Bulldog surrendered two deflating touchdowns on third and long in the 36-24 loss. Freedom will get a chance to avenge their loss to the Vikings Friday at Tony Dorsett Stadium and hopefully play cleaner football.
“We made way too many penalties (last season vs Hopewell),” Liberty said. “We just gotta play better football.”
Luckily for Liberty, the Bulldogs return a majority of their starters from 2016, including junior quarterback Zach Rosa, junior fullback/linebacker Cody Ross and senior running back/defensive back Kyle Borgman. After a surprising playoff berth and the program’s first playoff win in over a decade, there is a buzz around Freedom for the first time in a long time. Regardless of the extra attention, the Bulldogs will need to come out and set the pace of the game according to Ross.
“We are just going to take it one play at a time,” Ross said. “Really control the ball and not try to force anything. Defensively we just have to be on our A game and come out and be physical. “
While the Bulldogs are returning most of their starters, the same cannot be said for the Vikings. Coach Mark Washington comes into his third season at Hopewell having to replace eight starters, and on top of that, try to erase the painful memories of how 2016 finished. After starting 5-0 last fall, injuries began to decimate the Vikings during the heart of their Beaver Valley Conference schedule. Hopewell would drop their remaining five games, missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
Despite the obstacles facing the Vikings this season, Washington believes his team will be motivated coming into Friday Night versus Freedom.
“I expect our guys to be flying high even though we’re a young team,” Washington said. “We have some guys that have been around for awhile. We need them to step up and play physical and together.”
One of those players Washington is referring to is junior running back DeShaun Sanders. As a sophomore, Sanders was second on the team in rushing with 388 yards on 88 carries, but could only find the end zone twice on the ground. Washington expects Sanders to be his bell-cow running back in 2017.
“We are ready for him to take the load (of the carries) this year and help guide this team.”
Friday’s game is not only the first game of the season for Freedom and Hopewell, but a homecoming for several Bulldogs. Both Rosa and Ross were grew up and went to Hopewell until middle school and still know a lot of the players on the Vikings’ roster. Not only did Ross go to Hopewell, but his late grandfather Butch Ross served as Vikings head in the late 60’s and 70’s, coaching the likes of future Heisman trophy winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorestt.
“I grew up reading the scrap books and stuff from the glory years there,” Ross said. “I still find it neat that even though he’s been gone for like eight years that people know me as Butch Ross grandson, or tell me stories about him and the impact he had on people’s lives on and off the field.”
Expect an emotionally charged game on both sides when the Bulldogs and Vikings kick off their season Friday night at 7 pm.
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