JFK into regional title game

Eagles avenge playoff loss to Mogadore with 16-3 win

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Stewart John F. Kennedy quarterback Greg Valent (4) tells the next play to his offensive teammates during the Eagles’ 16-3 win over Mogadore Saturday night at Salem. The win puts the Eagles in the Division VII, Region 25 title game.

SALEM — The theme of last week’s John F. Kennedy win over Toronto was “Deja Vu.” However, if that theme continued again this week, the Eagles would havebeen in some trouble.

A year ago, Mogadore routed Kennedy on the heels of several Eagle turnovers. But in Saturday night’s Division VII, Region 25 semifinal at Salem’s Reilly Stadium, the Eagles made their new theme “redemption,” as they knocked off the Wildcats, 16-3. JFK advances to this week’s Region 25 title game against the No. 1-seeded Norwalk St. Paul Flyers.

“I think our defense was able to play a little bit better against them than we did last year,” Kennedy coach Jeff Bayuk said about the difference between playing Mogadore last year versus this year. “Last year’s game started with about a 23-play (Mogadore) drive, and then they ended up scoring on fourth down on it.

“It kinda set the tone, and then we started turning the ball over. Our kids really rose to the occassion tonight, and I’m really proud of our defense. This is a big win for our program and for the Mahoning Valley.”

This time around, Kennedy was able to set the tone early, as the Eagles dominated the battle of field position, start to finish. Kennedy’s first drive started at the Mogadore 36-yard line, and while the Eagles went three-and-out, they were able to down a Justin Bofenkamp punt inside the Wildcat 1.

Two plays later, the Eagles took the lead on a safety, just four minutes into the contest. Kennedy’s next drive, following the safety kick, started from its own 49, and quickly made its way to the Mogadore 16, thanks to a pair of Greg Valent completions. However, the Eagles came up empty with a missed 33-yard field goal.

The Eagles once again had an opportunity to take control of the game following yet another Mogadore punt, as Kennedy was back in business around midfield again. Four plays into the drive, a Dan McCartney run nearly ended in disaster, as he was stripped and fumbled the ball forward, but the Eagles were able to recover.

Even with new life, Kennedy was still unlucky in the kicking game, as it settled for a 40-yard field goal attempt that went just wide to the left. This time, Mogadore made them pay, by responding with an eight-play, 68-yard drive that was highlighted by a Kole Jaber quarterback keeper up the sidelines for 46 yards.

After getting to the Kennedy 12-yard line, the Wildcats settled for a Grant Slabaugh 29-yard field goal, putting Mogadore ahead, 3-2, with 7:20 left in the first half.

Kennedy, however, eventually regained the lead before half, as Valent connected with Jacob Coates on a 31-yard touchdown pass, putting the Eagles back in front, 9-3.

“They (Mogadore) pretty much did exactly what we thought they’d do, except for like a couple orbit motions,” Eagles linebacker Alec Burzynski said. “They out-physicaled us last year, and we really brought the hammer this time, and we weren’t letting them beat us again.”

Burzynski, in fact, was the star of the night, as he was all over the field, especially in the Wildcat backfield. Things didn’t change much for Mogadore’s offense in the second half, as the run-heavy Wildcats were limited to just over three yards per carry on the night, en route to only 85 yards on the ground, to go along with 111 total yards and just five first downs.

Eventually, any hopes that the Wildcats had of putting together a last-gasp effort faded on Kennedy’s next-to-last offensive drive. The Eagles took control with 6:09 remaining, and forced Mogadore to jump offsides on a fourth-and-3 from the Wildcat 36 with just 3:20 left on the clock.

Mogadore (9-3) soon exhausted its final timeout, and fullback Ross Nocera sealed the Eagle win with a 19-yard touchdown run up the middle, with just 1:13 left on the clock.

“They’re just a year older, a year wiser,” Mogadore coach Matt Adorni said of Kennedy. “(They have an) awesome defense, we knew that coming in, and we tried to do some different wrinkles. But they took away a lot of the things we can do normally. We had bad field position to start the game, 1, 2 and 6-yard line.”

Kennedy (11-1) will now take on the No. 1 team in the region, St. Paul, in this week’s Region 25 final. After a valiant effort in Saturday’s rematch against Mogadore, the Eagles will certainly carry a ton of momentum going into next week’s game, but mental mistakes must be avoided.

“Our offense moved the ball at times, but in critical times we made errors. Our defense continued to bail us out,” Bayuk said. “We need to be able to finish our drives and not make mental mistakes. Once we do that, I think we’ll be tough to contend with.”