By Kyle LoJacono
The Steinbrenner football team scored on a kick return and an interception to defeat Class 7A-District 7 rival Freedom 13-6 on Sept. 23.
“I’m happy about the way we won because I emphasize special teams and defense,” said Warriors coach Floyd Graham. “We work special teams 30 minutes a day, and we put the best 11 athletes on D.”
Steinbrenner (3-1) trailed 6-0 early in the second quarter after Freedom’s D’Andre Washington blocked a punt deep in Warriors’ territory. Patriots quarterback Jon Economou ran up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown three plays later.
Steinbrenner snatched momentum right back when Zack Jones took the ensuing kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown to put the Warriors up 7-6.
“It changed the momentum of the game, and I knew if I got one block I was gone,” Jones said. “Lanes opened up, and Jake Carroll threw a huge block to spring me. Then I saw daylight and just ran as fast as I could.”
The Warriors stretched their lead to 13-6 when defensive back Danny Fernandez intercepted Taylor King, who replaced Economou after halftime, and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
“I just saw it in the air and knew it was mine,” Fernandez said. “Once I had it there was no doubt in my mind I was going to score. I saw blockers in front of me and I was going to score no matter what.”
Freedom (0-4) did threaten the Warriors’ end zone on its final drive. The Patriots got the ball with 6:09 left on their own 40 and put together a 17-play drive that included converting three fourth downs. However, three incomplete passes and two penalties forced a fourth and 20 with 17 seconds remaining from Steinbrenner’s 27-yard line.
King lobbed a pass into the end zone, but defensive back Andrew Feldhaus deflected the prayer to the turf, sealing the victory.
“I was just thinking knock it down,” Feldhaus said. “We practice that all the time and coaches always say just knock it down. I knew there were some people behind me, so I timed my jump and knocked it down as hard as I could.”
Neither squad was able to move the ball effectively on a field that resembled a swamp because of heavy rains all week and newly laid sod. Freedom had 246 yards of total offense, while Steinbrenner amassed 75 and did not complete a pass.
“We’ve been getting killed defensively all season, so I challenged them to step up and they stepped up tonight,” said Freedom coach Tchecoy Blount. “We didn’t give up a touchdown and allowed only a couple big plays, but we were able to rally and stop those drives. I was very proud of our defense.”
Steinbrenner’s defense turned the Patriots over on downs three times while recording six sacks, one fumble recovery and Fernandez’s interception.
Freedom’s punt team was one of the squad’s highlights on the evening, averaging more than 10 yards per return while allowing 0 yards.
“Our punt team was very good tonight,” Blount said. “We get a big block from D’Andre that set up our touchdown, Deven Turner had some big punt returns for us and we covered their punt return team well. Unfortunately our kick return wasn’t as disciplined and we got out of our lanes a couple times and that’s what let up that touchdown.”
The victory is the Warriors’ third straight and puts them on top of the district tied with Gaither and Tampa Bay Tech.
“This game was huge for us, and I’m just glad that we have a bye week,” Graham said. “We have a couple of kids injured, so we need to heal up.”
Freedom travels to Alonso on Friday, Sept. 30. Steinbrenner next plays at Gaither on Thursday, Oct. 6. Both games are at 7:30 p.m.
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