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EPC football: Freedom to open 2024 season by playing California team in New York City

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For the first time since the new version of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference was formed ahead of the 2014-15 school year, EPC football teams will have a chance to play opponents outside the EPC in 2024.

Given the opportunity, Freedom wanted to do something different with one of the three open dates before league play begins in Week 4. The Patriots, who have been one of the EPC South’s most consistent winners, have been able to accomplish their goal and have something very different lined up.

They will open the season at 6 p.m. on Aug. 23 against Torrey Pines of San Diego, California, and the game will be played at Poly Prep High School in Brooklyn, New York.

California is considered a recruiting hotbed and Torrey Pines has sent five players on to the NFL including John Lynch, the former all-pro safety who played in the NFL with Tampa Bay and Denver from 1993-2007. He is now the general manager of the 49ers.

“It’s exciting because we’re playing a team from the biggest classification in California and I think they were 7-3 last season and a playoff team out there,” Freedom coach Jason Roeder said. “When I told our kids about it they lit up. They’re excited to play in New York City and against a team from San Diego. It’s obviously very different.”

Roeder thanked the Freedom athletic office featuring AD Nate Stannard, assistant AD Jeremy Shuler and clerk Michael Blouse for arranging the game.

Several other options were explored including a game right off the beach and boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey.

“Our hope was to play in the Battle at the Beach in Ocean City, knowing that St. Joe’s Prep played IMG Academy in that event last year and it’s an awesome atmosphere,” Blouse said. “We reached out to the event organizer in October and we were accepted to play but we had to wait on the NJSIAA to announce the season-opening 2024 dates for New Jersey schools. Well, this year, the NJSIAA moved back Week 1 to Labor Day weekend, so that left us out.”

Roeder and Blouse said they were close to securing a game against Pine-Richland, a western Pennsylvania power that won the 2022 PIAA 5A championship.

“We agreed to play Pine-Richland in the York Rose Bowl Kickoff Classic on Aug. 23 but for whatever reason, that fell through,” Blouse said. “We were getting desperate. Eventually, about three weeks ago, Kelly Hayes, a Freedom graduate from KSA Events emailed us and said they had an opening against Torrey Pines because an Ohio team pulled out. After about two weeks of negotiations, we signed the contract.”

Stannard had put Freedom’s opening out on the PIAA website and that’s where Hayes likely saw it.

Torrey Pines will use the opportunity to not only play a quality foe from Pennsylvania, but also do some sightseeing in New York City.

Freedom will use the opportunity to see someone different before it begins a grueling schedule that will feature Parkland in Week 2 and Allentown Central Catholic in Week 3 in what will be considered nonleague games before the EPC schedule starts in Week 4, Sept. 13, against Nazareth.

The Patriots will be in the Northampton County Division in the new-look EPC, which has abandoned the North-South alignment for three divisions of six teams each.

“The games against Parkland and Central Catholic are games we feel should be played because they have been competitive games every year,” Roeder said. “They were two games that are normal to us, but we wanted to do something different with the first nonleague date. We’re starting with a Murderer’s Row type of schedule again.”

A local team playing someone from California is not new. In 1986, Whitehall began its season by hosting El Toro High School from California. In front of one of the biggest crowds of the season, El Toro beat Whitehall 20-19.

Also, local teams being involved in KSA events is not new. In 1997, Parkland hosted what was called the Kaylee Scholarship Classic and a doubleheader featured Allentown Central Catholic against Phelps Academy of Washington, D.C. in Game 1 and Parkland against Abington in Game 2.

In the second Kaylee Classic in 1998 at Bethlehem Area School District Stadium, Allentown Central Catholic played Whitehall, and Liberty met Pottsgrove in Game 2 of a doubleheader.

Kaylee, a nonprofit organization, has also hosted events in Orlando, Florida, that have included local teams.

Freedom, coming off a 6-5 season, is expected to be one of the EPC’s top teams again this fall.

Roeder said: “We have a strong group coming back, and our rising senior class is one of our bigger classes. We’ve had about 60 in the weight room throughout the offseason. Our numbers have been good and we feel we return enough to be competitive.”

There has already been a film exchange between Freedom and Torrey Pines, and it’s the kind of matchup that gives a local team an opportunity to see a different style and approach, and perhaps a different kind of athlete.

Roeder isn’t sure how the new EPC format is going to work, but said: “We just control what we can control and we wanted to make the most of the opportunity. Our athletic office did a good job of making possible what I think will be a neat experience for our kids and not just the football team, but the band and cheerleaders as well. We’re looking forward to it.”

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