Flag Football: Graduation Hasn't Slowed Freedom
TAMPA - It would seem Freedom would have nowhere to go but down after losing several of Hillsborough County's top players to graduation, including the 2007-08 Tampa Tribune Girls Athlete of the Year, quarterback Sarah Cardozo. No sir. Freedom, just like last season, has started 4-0, beating most of its opponents rather soundly. "I'd say we don't have as much experience as we did last year, but I'd say we have just as many, or even more athletes," Freedom coach Dennis Derflinger said. "Once again we have a lot of team speed." That's saying a lot for a team that finished one point shy of going to the 2008 state tourney, losing to Plant City 27-26 in triple overtime.Leading the way this year is junior Gabbie Peek, a veteran receiver and defender who took over at QB. "Peek actually throws the long ball a little better than Cardozo, and Peek runs very well," Derflinger said. "She is still learning the offense and the reads, though. But she's getting there." Peek is averaging a combined 250 yards (running and passing) a game, with one of her favorite targets being Monique LaMotte, who has caught a 75-yard TD pass and returned a punt 75 yards for a TD. "We lost so many people from last year that we've had to move some people around and experiment a little," Derflinger said. "We just had to get the right athletes in the right positions." THE OTHER 'FUTBOL' If Newsome's flag football team looks familiar, it's probably because it looks a lot like the soccer team, including the coach, Kelly Townsend. "It's not by design, but yes, a lot of my soccer players also play flag football for me," said Townsend, who has coached both sports for four years. "I enjoy doing both sports and I think the girls do as well. We have a lot of fun with flag football." And a good deal of success. The Wolves - sparked by soccer players Kendall Graham, Kristen Kapuspiak, Ashley Evers, Sarah Aggers, Shea Rhoney and Sam and Jackie Simpson - have a 3-1 record. The only loss came against Bloomingdale 13-12, after Newsome failed to convert on a late 2-point try. Besides the soccer players, Newsome is led by quarterback Megan Knight, who stepped into the varsity starting spot after leading the junior varsity last season. "Knight is strictly focused on flag football," Townsend said. "And that is just fine with everybody." A SURPRISE ... OF SORTS There were several reasons to believe Plant would beat Chamberlain on Thursday, namely the fact the Chiefs lost more key players to graduation than the Panthers did. Chamberlain, however, won 26-8 with a devastating defense that picked off five Panthers passes. On two plays deep in Chamberlain territory, the Chiefs intercepted passes and returned them for TDs, one by freshman Clarice Devine and the other by Arena Houston, who totaled four interceptions for the night. "When you do that against a team as good as Chamberlain you are going to be in trouble," Plant coach Bo Puckett said. "We simply made too many mistakes against a team that is always extremely well-coached." Chamberlain improved to 3-0 while Plant dropped to 2-1, but both Puckett and Chiefs coach Doug Aplin said the teams are closer than the final score indicated. "We hit on a few big plays and that was the difference," Aplin said. "Take away those couple of plays and the game could have turned out a whole lot differently."