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Bandon football coach Aaron Freitag was happy with Saturday’s game.

On the surface, the 34-14 loss to Class 3A Salem Academy was painful. It was the 72nd Annual Cranberry Bowl, a second homecoming of sorts with Cranberry Fest bringing old friends back for a weekend to walk through the past.

But below that is an understanding of growth, and understanding that foundations have to be laid. So comes the struggle with freshmen and sophomores everywhere and a difficult schedule to play.

“There’s positives in it,” Freitag said. “We just have to make sure the kids see it and build off it and not just see a loss. And that’s what’s so important, and what’s so tough.”

The Tigers are a collection of youngsters looking to establish themselves, and they did some good things Saturday working toward that goal.

True, Salem Academy's Cameron Haslebacher was amazing, rushing for 215 yards on 29 carries and scoring three touchdowns, but Bandon came up with four interceptions — Braydon Freitag had two, Donovan Mitchell and Reef Berry had one each — holding the Crusaders offense scoreless for most of the third quarter, allowing themselves to hang around and stay within striking distance after.

Three of the interceptions involved pressure from the defensive line getting to Crusaders passers Cole Hardy or Brandon Reed, leading to forced, inaccurate throws the Tigers caught and advanced.

The other interception came on a Salem Academy double pass. Hardy lateraled right to Jacob Haller who tried to hit Crusader tight end Dawson Patton in the end zone, but Braydon Freitag stepped in front of the pass to deny Salem Academy with a minute left in the second quarter.

It was the second interception in a four possession-long streak that rolled from the second through the third quarter, finally ending when the Crusaders scored shortly into the fourth period.

“I think our defense was pretty good against this good football team,” Bandon senior Cayton Sinay said. “They had a good pass scheme. I think our defense stepped up. A few balls got by us and stuff but overall I think our defense (was good).

Offensively, Bandon was streaky against the Salem Academy defense, having fleeting success on the backs of Sinay and Freitag, Bandon's quarterback.

Sinay, a wing in Bandon’s Wing-T offense, scored and set up both of the Tigers’ touchdowns on offense and special teams.

He ran right on a fake punt, lined up as the punter, in the first quarter for 27 yards and later caught a 16-yard touchdown when Freitag rolled right and Sinay ran a comeback route, catching the accurate and on-time pass with his shoulders square and no Crusaders near him. It cut Salem Academy’s lead to 7-6.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Salem Academy scored the next 19 points

“We wanted to come back,” Sinay said. “But, just couldn’t get it done.”

In the fourth, with Bandon down 26-6 following a Crusader touchdown, Sinay took a deep kickoff from Haller and went straight up the middle, breaking into the open near midfield and veering right on what became a 73-yard return and provided sudden momentum and field position for the Tigers.

Bandon went right back to the Freitag-Sinay combo, but the quarterback had to work for a throwing lane, breaking tackles and rolling to his left. Sinay found a hole in the defense and caught the pass and easily scored a 21-yard touchdown.

“I’m just proud of him and how hard he plays,” Aaron Freitag said of Sinay. “He’s got the biggest heart. He’s just one of those kids. And a lot of other kids do too. You need those, man. You need eight of them in seniors.”

After the game, Aaron Freitag stood in the weight room, his players sitting around tired and sweaty and disappointed, and told them he was proud of them. That they played a good football team tough.

He reminded them that as Bandon walked off the field defeated, Salem Academy called them back to midfield to share a prayer and a photo, handshakes and smiles and names exchanged.

Freitag told his team that they earned that respect with the way they played, and that’s an important building block.

“I’m proud of them,” he said. “They just scrapped ‘til the end. We’re throwing freshmen guys in there. Some of them are playing their first varsity game and we’re throwing them in there against Salem Academy.”

It doesn’t get any easier this week.

Bandon hosts Oakland, who has already played two Sunset Conference teams and come out with two narrow losses, one a 12-6 defeat to Coquille and another an overtime loss to Reedsport. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday.

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