Indecision decides game
Kennedy nips Flashes, 18-15, on final play
WARREN — Jeff Bayuk couldn’t make up his mind, and the indecision nearly cost the John F. Kennedy Eagles a game.
And then his indecision helped the Eagles win the game.
Bayuk chose to go for the win with 6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, trailing by three and JFK on Champion’s 9-yard line. A high-arching floater of a pass from Christian Marantis somehow fell into the outstretched arms of a diving Savone Williamson in the back of the end zone as time expired, and the Eagles escaped Mollenkopf Stadium with an 18-15 victory over the Golden Flashes.
“I think it’s called senility,” said Bayuk, joking that his old age caused his indecisiveness. “(The decision) had nothing to do with our kicking game, first of all. It had to do with my thinking. The way (Champion) had been moving the ball on us earlier in the game. We tightened up a little bit in the third and fourth quarter, but the way they were moving the ball, I just thought our best chance to win the game was not go into overtime.”
His choice paid off — by a matter of inches.
The Eagles originally were preparing to try a potential game-tying field goal with the ball at the 4-yard line. However, Bayuk waited too long to call for the field goal unit, and they weren’t able to set up before the 25-second playclock ran out, resulting in a 5-yard delay of game penalty.
That pushed JFK back to the 9, and Bayuk then decided to go for the touchdown. Marantis rocked back and heaved up a ball that seemed to stay in the air for minutes, and as the pass finally started to come down, a Champion defender jumped right in front of Williamson but missed the ball. It was just then that the speedy wide receiver — who scored all of Kennedy’s touchdowns — dove near the back middle of the end zone, and the stadium went silent as they awaited a signal from the referee, who ended the suspense by raising both arms.
“It was crazy,” Williamson. “Everything was going through my head when coach called (the play). I was like, ‘Man, is it coming to me?’ I seen it and was like, ‘I’ve got to go get it. My team was on my back, so I’ve got to show out.’ “
It was a miraculous win for Kennedy, which drove 52 yards in the final 35 seconds without a timeout for the score, and a devastating loss to the Golden Flashes.
Champion is coming off an 0-10 season and last won a game Sept. 30 of 2016. They didn’t look like a team without direction in this one, and first-year coach Tim McGlynn didn’t let the stunning finish take all the positives away from an impressive performance by the Flashes.
“I just cannot say enough about my team’s grit,” McGlynn said. “Since I’ve been hired, I told them I will never let it get back to what it was, and they have bought into everything we’ve done as coaches, everybody we’ve brought in. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of my kids.”
Their turnaround seemed evident from the start.
The Flashes started the game with a 15-play, 57-yard drive that took 9 minutes and 14 seconds off the clock. They held JFK withouth a second-half first down until 4:15 remained in the fourth quarter. Champion dominated time of possession with a power running game and looked more physical than the Eagles, but big plays cost the Flashes.
Champion allowed a 61-yard run by Isaac Hadley with 1:21 left in the first half, setting up a near-perfect 21-yard TD pass from Marantis to Williamson. That allowed JFK to take a 12-7 halftime lead. The Flashes went back up on a 16-play drive, capped by a 1-yard run by Carter Mast, that took up most of the third quarter, and the gameplan was working well.
“I played for Carl Pelini and coached for Neal Kopp,” said McGlynn, an Austintown Fitch graduate, “and we were always ground and pound. That’s our philosophy here.”
The Flashes, who ran the ball 48 times compared to nine passes, continued to thwart a JFK offense that was without starting running back Jordan Edmondson for much of the game. The quick and agile senior came out in the second quarter and was in a sling on the sideline during the second half.
Champion’s defense seemed to seal the victory with a key fumble recovery. Hadley, who finished with 95 yards rushing, was pushing for extra yardage as the Eagles drove inside the Flashes’ 20-yard line with 2:34 remaining in the fourth quarter when he was stripped of the ball. Champion, still leading 15-12, gained one first down, but back-to-back penalties on what was originally third-and-4 eventually forced a punt. That gave JFK one last shot from its own 48 with 35 seconds left and zero timeouts.
Marantis, who was 7-for-11 for 122 yards and three TDs, connected with Williamson down the sideline on an out-and-up route for 32 yards to the Champion 12. A run by Marantis to the 4 set up the final sequence of events.
“My line had beautiful protection for me,” Marantis said of the last play. “I couldn’t have asked for any more time. My receiver had a crazy insane catch that I didn’t even get to see. My teammates were telling me he caught it over his shoulder. It was beautiful. … I didn’t see it. I was on the ground. I’ll be honest, I was looking in the stands for their reaction.”
He got the one he was hoping for.