By BLAKE MCCORMICK
What was supposed to be an ordinary season-ending contest between a solid team that’s out of playoff contention, and a dismal squad with only a single win, ended up being a noteworthy finale as Freeport Head Football Coach Jim Anderson announced to his players before kickoff that he would be stepping down as the team’s leader when his contract expires in February.
“It’s just time for a change,” said Andreson, whose team finished wit
who came to Freeport in 2001 after successful head coaching stints at Mayo-Lafayette and Hamilton County, was contemplating stepping down. Freeport senior running back Zack Seay, who did not play in the game due to an injury, said the announcement was expected. “It wasn’t a surprise. We were kind of aware of it.”
Rocky Bayou was the host team and played the game at Meigs Middle School in Shalimar. The game itself was a Bulldog bonanza with eight different FHS players scoring touchdowns and the opposition providing such little resistance that the Freeport coaching staff was able to grant some players the chance to play out of their normal positions for a fun-filled end to the season.
Defensive linemen Anthony Rucker and Bryce McBrayer got to play running back, Dalton Simpler slipped into a #44 jersey for a series and caught a pass from the tight end position, and Xavier Carswell played in the defensive backfield. The loudest applause for the night was saved for senior Shine Burnham who got some action at nose tackle.
Chris Decker ran 25 yards for a touchdown on the Bulldogs’ opening drive. Two possessions later, Dalton Simpler scored the only touchdown of his career as the second generation Freeport football player grabbed an interception and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown, making the score 14-0 while exciting his parents, former Freeport athletes Brian and Paula Simpler-Rooks.
The four-year lettermen, who weathered through a winless freshmen season and remained at Freeport when others transferred, said the play was “one of the most exciting things to happen to me in my career.”
He added, “Earlier in the game, they threw one over me because I went for the quarterback. I decided the next time they ran that, I would just stay back. They ran it a few plays later and it worked out perfectly. Everyone was on the blitz and when I felt I wasn’t being blocked, I dropped back and he threw it right to me. I didn’t even hesitate to run. I had waited my whole football career for that moment.”
On the subsequent Freeport drive, senior Dylan Lewis, who started at quarterback for the first time, scrambled out of trouble and found fellow senior, Josh Brown, for a sparkling 21-yard touchdown reception. After Rocky’s offense again couldn’t move the ball, a bad snap on an attempted punt by the home team gave Freeport the ball on the 4-yard line. Offensive Coordinator Shaun Arntz paid tribute to senior standout Anthony Rucker by putting him at running back, a position the four-year letterman shared until this year. Rucker scored from four yards out on Freeport’s final drive of the quarter.
Anderson said of Rucker, “It was an unselfish move for Rucker to move from running back to offensive line. I was glad he got a touchdown.”
The onslaught continued in the second quarter. Dylan Lewis scored on a 46-yard touchdown run. Ethan McFerrin caught a short pass and turned it into a 45-yard touchdown and Zach Clark scored on a 16-yard run to make the halftime margin 49-0.
Freeport tried to not score anymore in the second half as a running clock was implemented but Clayton Bartlett, determined to make the most of his playing time, broke loose on a 97-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Rocky Bayou scored late to make the final score 56-7.
Dylan Lewis, Cameron Hardee, and Chase Clark all had interceptions for the Bulldogs.
Freeport concluded its 41st season of football with its 12th winning season in school history. Anderson, the longest tenured coach in Walton County history, has captained seven of those seasons. His overall record at Freeport stands at 91-81.