By James Pezzullo - Freehold Township Student Contributor

Freehold Township isn’t a football school.

This was the mantra I heard over and over from everyone around me, for as long as I can remember. My mother and my sister are both Freehold Township alums, and neither could remember a competitive football team at our high school. They had that on good authority: as band members, they had both seen all 40 games of their high school careers. When you walk in to our gym it is covered wall-to-wall with championship banners. You see girls lacrosse going back-to-back-to-back until no one could keep track of all the division titles. You see field hockey winning innumerable sectional crowns. You see shrines to great baseball and basketball coaches and players. Clearly, this is a place for champions.

Conspicuously absent is football. The only mention of it you’ll find is in a display case outside the gym, where you’ll see the newspaper clippings from that incredible 2001 season and a game ball from the first – and only – Township playoff football game. There are no banners and no trophies, tut there was always promise. We’ve had great athletes on the football team through the years. We’ve put players in the NFL. Most of our senior starters from 2014 went on to play in college. We were never lacking for good players. All we needed was a little faith.

Photo by Robert Samuels.

I had been a believer since the beginning. I knew that Township Football could not be kept down forever. The moment I knew was on a cold night at the end of November in 2012. We had a one-point lead but Freehold Boro’s runner had found a hole with time expiring. It was over, and we were going to lose. That was until Matt Alimena came out from the right edge and delivered an explosive hit. Colin Bitsko fell on the fumble. Game over. It was absolutely unbelievable. Even though we had already missed the playoffs, in that moment I was certain this was a special school and a special program, and one day we were going to prove it.

We saw flickers of light in 2014. At 3-3 and in playoff position with two games to go before the cutoff, it seemed that it might finally be our year. But we lost those two games in heartbreaking fashion - one in overtime after a fourth quarter rally, and the other by two points that we nearly had on a 2-point conversion. We lost the final game of the regular season and finished 3-6 before ending on a positive, but futile, note with a consolation win. Boys soccer won the Shore Conference Tournament, field hockey won their section once again, and it was just another year at Freehold Township – plenty of success for everybody but the boys on the gridiron.

But 2015 felt different from the beginning. The excitement began in the spring when head coach Cory Davies came on board. We knew that we had a strong quarterback and a fantastic stable of receivers, and history has shown that coach Davies is the man for the job with an offense like that. Things were looking up in Freehold. For years we had been getting our hopes up and falling just short, but this time it felt real. The moment the whole school began to believe was actually in a Week Two defeat to at Manalapan. We lost by one to the defending sectional champions in a game everyone outside of the locker room had written off as a guaranteed blowout. The following week we beat undefeated Howell on their home field, and the rest is history.

It was always about believing. When we trailed at Howell after a pick-six against a team on the fringe of the Shore Conference Top 10, beating us by a score on their home field, with all the momentum, we didn’t back down, and it became the best win of our season. The momentum and the spirit have been there this year in a way they never have at Township.

So when the sun sets on Friday it will be time to find out whether or not this is truly a team of destiny. No. 7 seeds winning state championships is not unheard of, but regardless of what happens in that game this season stands as a testament to what can happen to any program when you’ve got coaches, players and fans that all believe that they can beat any team they line up against. We were 1-9 in 2013. Now we’re back on the map, back in the playoffs and have laid the foundation for the future. When kids my age are the next wave of Shore sportswriters, they’ll look back at 2015 as the year Freehold Township finally became a football school.

But for now, we’re just glad to have this experience.