FREEBURG, Ill. — The Village of Freeburg, Illinois is fired up these days. And for good reason.
For the first time since 1995, the Freeburg High School football team will play a postseason game in the IHSA quarterfinals Elite 8. It took an historic season, some gutsy plays and 30 seniors to get to this point, and the team is enjoying how much the town is embracing them.
“It’s amazing to see how everybody in the community has come together to support us," Freeburg senior running back and wide receiver Eli Hoerner said. "We’ve been hearing that the whole community is behind us but it’s a different feeling to just see that. Especially at the game.”
The Midgets got past Carterville in the second round last Saturday in front of a packed house thanks to two late clutch plays.
One was a pass from Hoerner at running back to receiver Brett Holcomb which set up the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
“When we called it I knew it was one of those plays where we were gonna make something happen there," Freeburg senior quarterback Landon Funderburg said.
The other was a fourth-down touchdown pass from Funderburg to Holcomb to ice the game, instead of giving the ball back to Carterville.
A pick-six by Hoerner as time expired made it a 37-21 final and sent the students onto the field.
“Having three games of them rushing the field it’s just an amazing feeling," Holcomb said.
Nowadays in Freeburg, words like "special" and "amazing" are getting thrown around quite a bit when you talk about this team.
“It’s something special. Last Saturday if you were here and a part of it and the atmosphere. We knew it was going to be a great day, beautiful weather. And you could just see the atmosphere and how awesome it was for these kids. And I’m so proud that they got an opportunity to play in that," Freeburg head coach Ronnie Stuart said. "We haven’t been back here since 1995. Several times we’ve been in the second round of the playoffs but haven’t been able to get past that round. And to win that game on our home field in front of this community that has been waiting so long for it, it’s just something special.”
“It’s a great feeling. It’s one of those things that as a kid I’ve always dreamed about and to make it a reality it’s one of the big accomplishments of my life," Funderburg said of the team's current run.
With every game they win, Freeburg is making school history. They've never had a team make it to a state title game. They're also making memories along the way.
“Football I think in general the community rallies behind it. Especially when you’re winning and playoff times in November. It’s excitement. Saturday afternoon games where people want to come out and watch your team play. It’s something you can’t explain," Stuart said. "It’s why you tell young kids all the time that this is a special sport and to get an opportunity to get it in high school because… You know you can play baseball, you can play basketball and you can play other sports and you can do those when you get older. But the game of football you only get the opportunity four times in high school and hope that you get the opportunity to go to the next level. But nobody is playing pick-up games of football in the backyard with helmets and shoulder pads. So it’s something special.”
Freeburg will face its biggest test of the season against 4A No. 1 seed Rochester on Saturday. And this team isn't ready for this special ride to be over just yet.
“I think if we do our stuff we can make something special happen," Hoerner said.
“We’ve talked about it all year long. We do what we do. We’re going to go up there and play another great football team. We’re going to focus on what we’re doing and we’re just happy to have the opportunity to go up there and compete Saturday against Rochester," Stuart said.