For Zac Freeman, the play was just like practice.
Each Monday and Tuesday, the Dade County Wolverines run through a bit of tomfoolery — the fake punt.
On Friday night against the North Murray Mountaineers, Dade County finally ran the play.
And it worked to perfection.
Trailing 26-23 midway through the fourth quarter and facing fourth-and-18, Freeman took the snap as one of the upbacks and scampered 48 yards for a touchdown. The gutsy call was the decisive score as Dade County beat North Murray 30-26 at Mountaineer Stadium.
“I’ve never ran it,” Dade County coach Bradley Warren said. “I just thought, ‘You know, I’ve got a chance here.’ I looked at the defense they had set up, and they had punt safe, I saw it and thought if we hit it fast we’d score and that’s what we did.
The loss dropped North Murray to 0-2, but coach David Gann was impressed with his team’s effort.
“I’m very, very proud of our kids,” Gann said. “That’s the best we have played and they continue to keep playing hard. The thing I’m going to tell them is our first three games are warmup games to get ready for (Region 5-3A competition). Our goal is still intact and that is to get into the playoffs and be one of the top four teams in our region.”
Last season at Dade County (1-1), North Murray won in a shootout, 57-44, so Warren expected there were going to be plenty of points scored this time around.
“It was an emotional shot for us,” Warren said. “I felt like going in it was going to be a slugfest. I knew it was going to be a barnburner one way or another.”
The fake punt certainly fit that description.
It gave Dade County the lead for good, but North Murray had a scoring chance late in the game. The Mountaineers began the drive at the 50 with 7:24 left in the game. After advancing to the Dade County 27-yard line, quarterback Hinton McConkey was stopped for a short gain that would have resulted in a third-and-short situation.
But after the play, North Murray was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The offense was left with third-and-26. On that play, McConkey threw an interception. With about four minutes remaining in the game, Dade County was able to run out the clock.
Dade County wasted no time in getting the scoring underway in the first quarter. On just the second play of the game, Freeman, a junior running back, took an inside handoff and bolted down the sideline 44 yards for a touchdown.
North Murray answered with a drive, albeit a much slower one. On the 11th play of the Mountaineers’ first possession, McConkey rolled left, looked to pass then tucked the ball for a 10-yard scoring run with 7:21 remaining in the first quarter.
On its next drive, Dade County looked to the familiar legs of Freeman as he capped the drive with a 41-yard scoring run. Freeman finished with nine carries for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
North Murray answered again on the ensuing possession. The offense took over at the Dade County 44 after a bad kickoff and Leonardo Lechuga scored on a 13-yard run with 1:32 in the first quarter.
McConkey finished with two passing touchdowns, with scoring throws to Jordan Adams (50 yards) and Payton Swilling (6 yards).