Perfect no more

VASJ ends Kennedy’s perfect season

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Hyland Burton (1) of John F. Kennedy returns an interception during the Eagles’ 14-10 loss to Villa Angela-St. Joseph Saturday night at Mollenkopf Stadium.

WARREN — One of the most vaunted defenses around was ready for it.

Unbeaten John F. Kennedy, which came into Saturday allowing 28 total points in eight previous games, prepared for this play all week, practicing it over and over and over.

“We probably ran that, I can’t even tell you how many times in practice,” said Eagles coach Jeff Bayuk of a screen pass thrown to the middle of the field. “We just didn’t have anybody like (number) 23 running it.”

That No. 23 was Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s Daniel McGarry, and his number is one JFK won’t soon forget.

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound McGarry caught two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including a 70-yard screen in which he bobbed and weaved his way through the Eagles’ defense to score the game-winning touchdown in a 14-10 victory for VASJ.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon John F. Kennedy's Dan McCartney tries to break the tackle of a Villa Angela-St. Joseph player Saturday at Mollenkopf Stadium.

The loss was the first of the year for JFK (8-1), which is still in line for a home playoff game despite the defeat, according to

“Put your head down and work your way through it,” said Bayuk of how he expects his team to bounce back. “That’s all I was ever taught when I was growing up, and that’s all I ever coached my kids — is work hard and work your way through it. “

JFK led 3-0 through three quarters, but the Vikings (4-5) made a quarterback change midway through the second half, and the move sparked life into what was a mostly dormant VASJ offense.

McGarry, who played QB until midway through the third quarter, was moved to wide receiver, and Aubrey Shabazz, a 6-1, 195-pound junior, took over under center. His first drive was 12-play march that was capped when he threw a 25-yard fade to McGarry, who made the reception in the back corner of the end zone to give the Vikings a 7-3 lead.

“(Shabazz) threw the ball well and McGarry made some big plays for us,” VASJ coach John Storey said of the QB change. “Sometimes you do that and the chemistry changes a little bit.”

JFK’s offense, which was held in check most of the game, responded late in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles took advantage of good field position after forcing a three-and-out and pinning the Vikings back at their own 8-yard line. JFK took over at VASJ’s 48 and moved to the 25 after an 8-yard scramble by quarterback Greg Valent had 15 yards tacked on to it because of a facemask. Dan McCartney then took a jet-sweep 25 yards around the right side for a touchdown, giving the Eagles a 10-3 advantage with 2:33 remaining.

The score was their only TD of the game despite being inside VASJ’s 50 six times — including two turnovers that put them inside the Vikings’ 30.

“Our lack of discipline in the first half and our inability to capitalize when we were in the red zone cost us the game,” Bayuk said. “Once again I thought we played a great game defensively — I thought our kids really did a great job — but you can’t give up big plays, and they beat us on two big plays.”

JFK appeared to be in good shape, leading 10-7 with 2:33 to play. The Vikings moved to their own 45 before penalties for holding and offsides pushed them back to the 30. That’s when Shabazz took a deep drop back and floated a short pass to the middle of the field. McGarry caught it, cut up field and showed great speed and agility as he maneuvered 70 yards — following several blocks for the score.

“If I told you how many times we practiced that touchdown play that they ran, you would be amazed, but you just can’t simulate that kind of stuff in practice,” Bayuk said. “The biggest thing we were hoping they wouldn’t do was put (McGarry) out at wide receiver. When he was at quarterback, we had 11 guys that could watch him. When he’s at receiver, it minimizes (that number). He’s an excellent football player.”

The Eagles’ last drive started with 1:08 on the clock but lasted four plays. They gained nine yards on two outside runs, but two incompletions sealed the win for VASJ.

There was some good news for JFK. Bayuk said there’s hope that star receiver/defensive back Jacob Coates could return next week after suffering a shoulder injury early in the season. The Eagles face St. Thomas Aquinas (8-1) in the regular-season finale.

“They dwarf these guys,” said Bayuk of St. Thomas Aquinas’ size compared to that of VASJ. “It’ll be another interesting game. It should get us ready for the playoffs.”