JFK rushes to Week 1 win

Champion’s special teams not enough to upend Eagles

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
John F. Kennedy’s Isaac Hadley breaks the tackle of Champion’s Zach Scher and rushes into the end zone Thursday in Champion. JFK won, 42-21.

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple John F. Kennedy’s Isaac Hadley breaks the tackle of Champion’s Zach Scher and rushes into the end zone Thursday in Champion. JFK won, 42-21.

CHAMPION — The defending Division VII state champion John F. Kennedy Eagles lost a star running back in Evan Boyd to graduation, but managed to prove that “next man up” really works for their football team, as they defeated the Champion Golden Flashes, 42-21, Thursday night.

The Eagles rushed for 287 yards, led by sophomore Jordan Edmondson’s 132 yards and three scores.

For coach Jeff Bayuk, his team has had to hear about defending their title all offseason, and Friday night’s opener proved to be an escape for his team.

“It’s really nice (to get back to playing football),” Bayuk said.

“There’s an awful lot of pressure on our kids, and we try to downplay it as much as we could, but everybody expects them to come out and play with perfection. We’re not there — it’s the first game of the season, and I thought we played a very good football game. We gave up a couple bad special teams play, but overall, I’m very pleased with our first contest.”

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Champion’s Nathan Stahlman, center, finds running room as teammate Cain Walters, left, puts a block on JFK’s Chris Urchek.

Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple Champion’s Nathan Stahlman, center, finds running room as teammate Cain Walters, left, puts a block on JFK’s Chris Urchek.

It took the Eagles’ offense a little while to get going, but with constant field position in plus territory, it was only a matter of time before JFK would pounce. Kennedy’s second possession started from its own 30-yard line and lasted eight plays, as Isaac Hadley punched it in the end zone from three yards out.

In fact, Kennedy’s first three touchdowns all resulted in 3-yard runs. Kennedy’s next possession was capped-off in seven plays off of a toss play to the right side, putting Edmondson in the end zone for the first of his three scores, giving the Eagles a 14-0 advantage.

Another Hadley 3-yard score with just 3:28 left before half proved to be short-lived for the Eagles — now up by three scores, however. On the ensuing kickoff, Champion’s Jordan Melton took the return on a short bounce, cut up the right side and jogged into the end zone from 89 yards out, closing the gap to 21-7.

Greg Valent’s quarterback keeper resulted in a 30-yard touchdown to put JFK back up by 21 points with 32 seconds left in the half, but Champion proved that lightning does strike twice.

The Golden Flashes (0-1) returned another kick for touchdown, closing the gap to 28-14 with just 15 seconds remaining before halftime. Nate Stahlman raced 86 yards to paydirt for the score, keeping Champion alive, despite just 32 total yards of offense and three turnovers.

“Two different kick returns by two kids, no less,” Champion coach Nick Wagner said, smiling. “We tried to change it up this week, and it was actually nice with the TV timeouts (local TV telecast). I’ll take that more often — too bad they don’t have newspaper timeouts. I knew all along it was gonna come down to all three phases of the game, (but) obviously we’d like to win the other two and the game.”

Kennedy (1-0), however, slammed the door shut on the Flashes in the second half. Edmondson, who had just 24 yards on 10 carries at half, exploded in the third quarter. Edmondson had a 33-yard touchdown run negated in the first quarter, but would not be denied after halftime.

Edmondson took the first offensive play of the second-half 50 yards to the endzone, as he cut outside, cut back inside, and ultimately avoided four defenders for the score. He would then give an encore performance two drives later, as he took a toss to the left and sprinted to the goal line for the 30-yard score, extending the Eagle lead to 42-14.

For Bayuk and company, defending a state title won’t be easy, as the Eagles take on the likes of LaBrae, Girard, Crestview and their typically challenging North Coast League rivals going forward. Not to mention, the constant noise that Bayuk eluded to after the game.

Nonetheless, JFK passed its first test it what could be another 15 weeks worth of exams. For Bayuk, things are looking up already, but he knows there’s still plenty of work to do — and one thing in particular, coming out of Thursday’s contest.

“Special teams,” Bayuk said, laughing. “We need to really shore up some things on our special teams, and we need to do a better job of executing on third down. I thought we could have done a little bit better on third down tonight (as well).”

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