TAMPA- The skies were clear, and rain was a problem of the past for the Tampa Bay area. The field was freshly cut and painted in honor of Freedom’s homecoming night, and as both teams marched onto the field, two by two, eyes forward and minds focused on only one thing, both the hosting Patriots (4-4, 1-3) and the visiting Steinbrenner Warriors (3-4, 2-2) made it clear it was their time to shine. But as any true spots fan can tell you, the winner takes all no matter how close the results truly are. With both teams part of an elaborate district in which anything could happen after tonight in terms of standings and playoffs, the only thing on their minds was getting a must win victory out tonight’s event. And for the entire class 7A, district 7 pool, it was do or die until the very end, destiny being the only independent variable in this football experiment. But Steinbrenner wanted it more after 48 minutes of nonstop penalties from both sides and numerous punts and turnovers coming from behind in a big 7-6 victory.
Freedom seemed to have dominated the first half offensively having two field goal opportunities, a 40 and a 42 yard shot, both missing, but the scoreboard shared a secret with only those present at the game. The scored displayed nothing about the mentality and style of tonight’s intense 48 minutes. Freedom was cursed with penalties left and right, nine in the first half alone, causing them to lose key field position when on the Steinbrenner ten yard line. They were pushed back by two of Steinbrenner’s five defensive sacks making an easy first and goal on the ten yard line into a monumental fourth and 29. It wouldn’t be until late in the third quarter when a punt kept on the Steinbrenner one yard line was turned into a fumbled snap, returned for a Patriot touchdown by Omar Meneses. The crowd was ecstatic, but failed to realize Freedom’s crucial failure. A missed extra point by Heath Grady, one of four total kicks missed on the night, gave Steinbrenner a chance to go ahead with a single score in the end zone. Grady would later miss a go ahead 52 yard field goal with 48 seconds left of the game.
“This is us. This is what we are capable of doing, and this is what we have been doing all year. It just hasn’t been going our way as much as we have wanted it to,” said acting defensive coach Cedric Roberts.
After a long waiting period and a slow first half start, Steinbrenner finally found the groove present from last week’s 55-40 homecoming victory over Wiregrass Ranch and transferred such heart and determination into a drive in which Steinbrenner brought the ball all the way down to Freedom’s four yard line. This allowed the most recent Home Team Hot Shot winner, quarterback Quentin Poteralski to rush the ball in through the right defensive flank for a go ahead, Steinbrenner touchdown with 5:35 remaining in the game.
“We had to get something going and we did a couple plays, and got in the groove,” said Poteralski.
But the war wasn’t over yet, as the extra point still needed to be kicked by Tyler Stevens. With the crowd shouting taunting rhymes hoping to throw him off guard, Stevens lined up for perhaps the most intense moment of the game, and put the ball through the uprights, giving Steinbrenner a miniscule 7-6 lead. From there, Steinbrenner shut down the Freedom squad with another sack and some key defense from the secondary and defensive line.
“I told coach (Andres) Perez to go for it, and I have been preaching it all year. Put it on us for the defense to win games. And they got it done tonight,” said Steinbrenner acting defensive coach Cedric Roberts.
Steinbrenner will go on to verse Gaither Friday night at 7:30 for a distrcit game, although due to Tampa Bay Tech and Sickles both winning, Steinbrenner along with Freedom and Wiregrass Ranch have been eliminated from the playoffs
Evan Abramson/Online Sports Editor