MORGANTON — Five days ago, the Freedom football team won the biggest game in the program’s 40-year history. Two days ago, it was back to work.
The Patriots didn’t have too much time to enjoy their first win in five meetings over South Mountain 2A/3A Conference rival Burns, a 19-18 overtime heart-stopper on the road that led to the first post-Thanksgiving high school football game ever on Burke County soil.
Instead, fourth-seeded Freedom (12-2) went right back to the practice field, pushing the sled and ironing out a gameplan for the NCHSAA 3A state semifinal opponent, the Concord Spiders (12-2).
“That’s kind of just the playoffs. It’s what you do,” said Pats senior quarterback Shawn Fairchild, who ran for a game-tying third-quarter touchdown and a go-ahead overtime score.
“You get a big win, put it behind you and get ready for the next game. I know we’re not too playoff-experienced yet, but last week helped a lot and showed us what we’re up against really the rest of the way.”
Sometimes it isn’t that easy to let a game like last week’s fade away from the memory bank, however. The Patriots have to guard against an emotional letdown this week, because despite getting the Burns monkey off their collective backs, the team can add to an already record-breaking season with the school’s first football trip to the state finals.
“It was a great game,” said Freedom senior running back David Burgess, who rushed for 102 yards last week and has only been limited to fewer than 100 once all year.
“It was a real hard-fought game for both teams. We hadn’t beaten Burns in the four years I’ve been here, and to be a part of the team that beat them means a lot. But we’ve got more in front of us than last week. We want to win a championship.”
Freedom coach Mike Helms said he believes the motivation won’t be hard to drum up with a game of this magnitude.
“When you look at last week, we went in knowing we had to win to stay alive,” Helms said. “So not that much has changed in our mentality. But playing such as emotional game, sometimes you do have a letdown afterwards. We have to keep in mind, we have a lot to look forward to.”
Helms said one positive is that his team didn’t play its best game of the year yet still won last week.
“The salvation is that we didn’t play well offensively. We can hit the field Friday knowing we can do a lot better,” Helms said. “Defensively, that was one of our better games. But I think you win a game like that, and you start wondering if this is a team that can just keep winning.
“Overall, this team isn’t as talented as last year’s. But this is a special group. They get along together, leave it all on the field for each other and really play well on Fridays.”
Fairchild and Burgess each hope to help an offense averaging 400 yards and 36 points get back on track this week.
“We’ve definitely go to play better,” Fairchild said. “Sometimes it’s just hard to get started against a team that knows you so well, but I think we can do more this week.”
“The longer we can stay on the field (offensively), the more we help our defense,” Burgess said. “We can give them rest and put some points on the board. That makes it easier for the defense to keep doing their thing.”
Helms said homefield advantage Friday will be a huge bonus for a Patriot team that hasn’t stayed in Morganton since the opening round.
“We’ve always done well playing here,” he said, pointing to the team’s 17-2 home record over the past three seasons. “We hope to have a huge crowd here Friday.”