Everything, it seems, runs through the kid with the great name — Man-Man Freeman — and an incredible all-around game.
Phoenix Christian knows its first 2A football title since 2004 hinges on the senior running back/outside linebacker, whose workload will only increase for Friday’s final against top-seed Eagar Round Valley at Scottsdale Coronado.
“They know who we’re riding,” coach Brian Cole said. “They understand it.
“The one thing we did throughout the year, we kept his carries down, we limited his reps. We knew come playoff time we’re going to ride that horse.”
Man-Man has delivered.
In the first round, a 62-6 rout of Whiteriver Alchesay, Freeman carried the ball eight times for 176 yards and four TDs.
In a 27-20 quarterfinal win over St. Johns that prevented Mike Morgan from being alone with the record for most all-time coaching wins, Freeman ran 12 times for 156 yards and a score.
And, two weeks ago, in a 28-0 win over three-time defending champion Thatcher, Freeman got the ball a season-high 31 times for 278 yards and three TDs. It was his most carries since he had 29 for 189 yards and two TDs in a 21-16 win at Round Valley on Sept. 27.
In three playoff games, Freeman also was the man on defense, making 14 tackles against St. Johns and 10 against Thatcher.
“Round Valley is a really good team, so we’re looking forward to that,” Freeman said. “They have a really good quarterback (senior Tayvin Bevell). He ran up and down the field on us, so we’re going to try to contain him.”
Round Valley likes to run the ball, but that starts with its quarterback. Bevell’s ability to take off and makes plays opens up other options, such as getting the ball to Marc Irigoyen, another dangerous player with the ball in his hands.
“Their defense is phenomenal,” Cole said. “They’re coached by a guy (Marcus Bell), who was a phenomenal defensive player (at the University of Arizona and in the NFL).
“They swarm to the ball like nobody else. They’re like a swarm of bees. They come out of nowhere. They’re good tacklers.”
Phoenix Christian hasn’t won a state title since 2004, the second of back-to-back championships, the last two titles in Jim Rattay’s coaching career.
Brian Cole has won three state titles as a head coach, but he can do something that isn’t seen, lead three different schools to state championships in three different divisions.
He led Phoenix North Canyon to a 14-0 season in 2005 in 5A. He led Glendale Joy Christian to an 8-man 1A in 2012, and again in 2015 when it played in 2A and went 13-0.
Cole can share this with his son, Zach, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior center, who is the heart and soul of the offensive line that has sprung big holes all year for Freeman to run through.
Cole has pretty much had the same assistants at all of his coaching stops in the Valley.
“I never look at it as me thing,” Brian Cole said. “It’s about the kids. No matter where we’ve been as a coaching staff, it’s been about the kids. If we can pull this off, and win at three different schools, it says something about our coaching staff.”
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