’91 Eagles barely made playoffs

32-12.

The 1991 John F. Kennedy football team remembered that score from a Week 8 loss to Campbell Memorial.

So did the late Tony Napolet, the Kennedy coach who guided the Eagles’ run to the 1991 Division IV state championship.

Kennedy, which finished 11-3, lost three of its last four games in the regular season.

The Eagles slipped into the No. 4 spot in the Region 13 rankings, ahead of Perry. In those days, only the top four in each region advanced to the state postseason, not eight as the current format dictates.

Matt Richardson,  a 1994 JFK graduate who is the offensive coordinator at Solon High School, was a sophomore linebacker in 1991.

“I can remember riding home on the bus Week 10,” Richardson said after JFK’s 14-7 loss at Poland to end the regular season. “I didn’t think we got in. We pulled up back at the school and said, ‘We’re in.’

“It kind of gave everybody a fresh breath of air. Coach Nap said things would be different the next time we played, whoever we played. It ended up being Campbell Memorial.”

34-6.

The Week 11 playoff game, pitting the fourth-seeded Eagles against the second-seeded Red Devils was a lopsided affair once again. This time, the Eagles had momentum on their side and an outstanding cast of offensive and defensive players.

The defense gave up 13 points through four playoff games, including the 20-7 victory over Springfield Central Catholic in the title game, and shutting out Hawken (27-0) and Steubenville Catholic Central (48-0) in the other two contests.

Campbell’s star running back Karlin Adams and the Red Devil offense were stunned by the vaunted JFK defense in that first playoff game.

“We didn’t think anybody could mess with us after that. He’s the best player we’d seen that year,” Richardson said.

Quickness was a reason why JFK’s defense was so great. Tim McNeil, a 1992 JFK graduate, was JFK’s track coach for most of the 2000s and took over for the late Tony Buttar.

McNeil, a defensive back/wide receiver who was the school’s 300-meter hurdles champion in 1992, knew how much the track experience helped the Eagles football team.

“We had a lot of team speed,” said McNeil, who is the cross country and track and field coach at Westminster College. “A lot of our guys in the secondary ran track.”

Offensively, the Eagles made a change at quarterback in the postseason, going back to the team’s original starter Anthony Antolini, who was recently inducted into the JFK Hall of Fame with Richardson. Antolini was more of an option quarterback and played receiver/wingback during the first 10 games.

Starting tailback Tom Paolucci was out with an injury the first couple games of the season. He came back and ran for well over 1,000 yards that season.

“Tom Paolucci was one of the best tailbacks at that time in the state,” Richardson said. “He was a track guy. He was one of the fastest guys in the state.”

Talent made this team great, but it was Napolet who motivated the 1991 team to be better. Napolet took over the program from Denny Zolciak, who left to take the Twinsburg job in 1991.

“Napolet’s pre-game speeches would make you come out of your skin and destroy the next team,” said 1993 JFK graduate Chris Urchek, who was a junior linebacker on that Eagles’ championship team.

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