The final San Francisco 49ers Charlie Wedemeyer Memorial Coach of the Week award of the 2016 season goes to Nelson Gifford from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, CA.
The Fremont Firebirds upset the first place Cupertino Pioneers Friday night when they came marching into town. The Pioneers came into the matchup sitting tied atop the El Camino Division and undefeated in league play, but that would no longer be the case as they walked off the field Friday at the hands of the underdog Firebirds.
“It meant a lot to the team. This is the best Cupertino team I’ve seen since I’ve been around. They were big, they were physical and they were riding high. For us to get down early and get up, then get back down and battle back… a win like this means a lot to this team,” said Fremont Head Coach Nelson Gifford.
It was a wild one at Fremont High School. Cupertino came out of the gates strong, scoring on their opening possession. On Fremont’s first offensive possession they drove down the field but were stopped on the two-yard line. Cupertino then drove the length of the field for 98 yards and the touchdown. After the end of the first quarter Fremont found themselves down 13-0.
“We found ourselves in a bit of an emotional hole early in the first, but the in-game adjustments we had to make after being down early and being able to come back and respond the way we did… that shows a lot about this team,” said Coach Gifford.
However, the second and third quarters were all Fremont. The Firebirds came up with a handful of big stops and game changing conversions throughout that contributed to this electrifying game.
The Firebirds defense came up big with a fourth down stop at the end of the second quarter to give them the 14-13 lead at halftime. The Firebirds scored another touchdown in the third quarter and their defense did the rest by keeping the Pioneers out of the end zone the entire quarter. After getting down 13-0 early, Fremont bounced back to score 21 unanswered points.
The fourth quarter was one for the books, and the final four minutes proved to be the most exciting of all. The score was 21-13 Fremont, but then Cupertino fired back with a touchdown. In order to tie the game, the Pioneers would have to go for the two-point conversion. The Firebirds’ defense again came up with a game defining play, stopping them on the two-point conversion and preserving the two point lead.
Fremont’s offense then came out and did their part, scoring another touchdown to add to the lead. The offense pulled ahead 34-19 after the defense forced a Cupertino interception on the very next drive. At this point, the Firebirds had some breathing room with only two minutes left on the clock. However, Cupertino was not done fighting.
Cupertino scored on a remarkable long pass to pull within eight points. They then recovered the ensuing onside kick and drove the short field for the touchdown. Cupertino was now within two and the 15 point Fremont lead dwindled down in less than four minutes. With almost no time left on the clock, Cupertino would once again need to go for two. It was more of the same for the Fremont defense as they held true to form and again held Cupertino from converting.
Fremont received the ball and after only calling 11 run plays the entire game, junior running back Jesse Vega broke off for a 30-yard touchdown run.
With seconds left, Cupertino would have to throw their way down the field if they were going to win this game. Knowing as much, Fremont’s defense was ready for the passing game.
This thrilling fourth quarter would come to an end on a game-clinching pick-six by Fremont’s defense to finally secure the upset victory.
“The last four minutes were all about resiliency. That’s been our season in a nutshell. Finishing games, finding ways to win and realizing what we’re good. That’s one thing we’ve learned this year as a team. It doesn’t matter what we want to do as coaches, it’s a matter of recognizing what the players are comfortable with and realizing what we are good at and sticking to that,” said Coach Gifford.
This is Coach Gifford’s first season as head coach of the Firebirds, but he is certainly no stranger to the Fremont team. He spent the last three seasons as offensive coordinator where his offense produced a league-best 415 points, averaging 37.7 points per game last year.
“I like to run the ball… I like to throw the ball… I like to score a lot of points. That’s really what it comes down to. I like to score points,” said Coach.
Gifford has done an impressive job in his first year as head coach, most recently defeating the top seed in the division, and has positioned his team well to see many more successful seasons moving forward.
In addition to football, Gifford also teaches a Fremont High, where he has served as a special education math teacher throughout his four years at the school.
“I love the Fremont community. It’s a wonderful community, great facility, with the most supportive and caring people I have ever been around. They’re just awesome. I’m happy to come to work every day,” said Gifford.
As our Coach of the Week, Nelson Gifford will receive a $1,000 grant for the Fremont High School football program from the 49ers Foundation. As part of this award, he will also receive two tickets to a 49ers home game where he will be recognized on the field. The week prior to the game, Coach Gifford will be invited to the visit the SAP Performance Facility to watch a closed practice where 49ers head coach Chip Kelly will officially present him with his award. Coach Gifford will also be featured on Cal-Hi Sports during their programming this weekend.
Congratulations, Coach Gifford!