JFK bounces back, beats Aquinas in OT

WARREN — A week after a disappointing home loss to Villa Angela-St. Joseph, the John F. Kennedy Eagles were looking for a big bounceback win against a tough St. Thomas Aquinas team.

The Eagles ultimately found a way to win Saturday’s game in dramatic fashion, knocking off the Knights, 28-27, in overtime at Mollenkopf Stadium.

In the fourth quarter, Aquinas drove the ball 72 yards in just six plays, which was capped off by a Nathan Rich 5-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal. The Knights took the lead on the extra point, but not for long.

Aquinas quickly got the ball back, but a swing pass intended for Rich was picked off by Isaac Hadley, giving the Eagles a short field from the Aquinas 25. Five plays later, Nocera scored from 4 yards out, and a Ryan Lee two-point conversion run followed, giving Kennedy the 21-14 advantage, with just 3:27 to play.

The Knights once again rallied, as it drove 74 yards and scored on a Palek-to-Hoffman 9-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 21 with just 43 seconds remaining. The Eagles put together one last gasp, as they got to the Knights’ 28 and lined up for a Justin Bofenkamp 45-yarder, but the kick was blocked, sending the contest to overtime.

Kennedy had no problem driving the 20 yards for the score, as Evan Boyd gave Kennedy the 28-21 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run.

“It was a fullback motion that we just put in this week for this team,” Boyd said. “We ran it a few times, we were successful, we weren’t and finally I just found a little seam.”

Aquinas (8-2) threw a 14-yard touchdown pass from Palek to Andrew Duplin in the back corner of the end zone to close the gap to 28-27, and then called a timeout. The Knights decided to gamble and go for the win, but the throw to the front corner of the end zone was a bit high, and the Eagles might have gotten away with a hold.

“Our kids really showed up on the offensive side of the ball. We did some things we thought we could exploit to their (Aquinas’) defense,” Kennedy coach Jeff Bayuk said. “To be honest, we were almost at full strength tonight, and that’s a really good feeling going into Week 11, knowing that we got everybody back. Next week we’ll be complete for the first time since Game 2.”

Kennedy dominated the first half of play, as they ran 41 plays to Aquinas’ eight.

The Eagles’ opening drive was a very methodical effort, as they went 65 yards in 15 plays and chewed up the first 8:14 of the game. JFK quarterback Greg Valent scored from 1-yard out on second-and-goal for an early 7-0 lead.

However, special teams was a different story early on for the Eagles.

JFK had a high snap which sailed over Bofenkamp’s head, which led to a partially blocked punt that went back to the line of scrimmage. The Knights took over at the Kennedy 40-yard line.

Two plays later, Jarryd Palek found Aaron Hoffman wide open on a 38-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7.

Kennedy tried to put together a long drive before half as they took over with 4:57 remaining and got the ball to the Aquinas 25, but had to settle for a 47-yard field-goal attempt.

Aquinas called back-to-back timeouts to freeze Bofenkamp.

The Eagles changed their mind as the offense came back onto the field, only for Valent’s deep pass in the end zone was broken up.

“We were a bend don’t break defense in the first half, we didn’t do a very good job of getting off the field on third down,” Aquinas coach Badre Bardawill said.

“When we had the ball, other than our one touchdown play, we didn’t do a very good job of sustaining our drives. Being tied at 7, you’re grateful to be tied at 7, but you’re not very happy with your execution.”

Kennedy came out strong in the second half, forcing a quick punt and then putting together a 50-yard touchdown drive, resulting in a Ross Nocera 1-yard touchdown plunge. Once again, the Eagles got caught up in another costly mistake, as a high snap on the extra point kept Kennedy’s lead at 13-7.

The win gives Kennedy a share of the North Coast League White Division title with VA-SJ, as the Eagles now find themselves third in Division VII, Region 25, clinching them a home game at Mollenkopf next week.

“We just gotta focus,” Nocera said about his team’s chances in the postseason. “I feel like last week, coming off of our loss (to VA-SJ), we weren’t really into it. We were 8-0, we didn’t really have focus, (and) I feel like that loss last week really helped us. Progressing through our season, it’s not gonna get any easier from here. We got a tough schedule coming up and we’re gonna (need to) overcome adversity.”