Kennedy grounds Flyers in regional quarterfinal
WARREN — Earlier in the week, Warren John F. Kennedy coach Dominic Prologo said he thought Friday night’s matchup with Norwalk St. Paul would be tough because he deemed the Flyers were underseeded.
Through a half of football at Mollenkopf Stadium, it seemed like he might have been off with that assessment, as the Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage and time of possession to build a two-score lead.
But Kennedy didn’t take advantage of a few miscues and the Eagles ended up in the fight of their lives in the final 4:27 of regulation before finally putting away the Flyers, 27-21, in a Division VII, Region 25 quarterfinal.
“If we take care of business in the first half, that kind of stuff isn’t as important, but the good thing about this win is, it’s a playoff game,” Prologo said. “It’s a great opponent, that was way under-seeded. They’re more of a regional championship type of a program. I’m happy with the win. At the end of the day, we go back on Monday and fix all those little things.”
Kennedy (6-2) dominated the first half, running 33 plays to just nine for Norwalk St. Paul (6-2).
The Eagles had the ball for close to 18 minutes compared to just five-and-change for the Flyers.
“I think in the first quarter, we were a little bit shy,” Norwalk St. Paul coach John Livengood said. “We didn’t have enough confidence in ourselves. After that first quarter, we started to gain some confidence and get some things going. JFK did a great job of possessing the ball in the first quarter. I think we only ran eight offensive plays. We couldn’t get them off the field. We at least held them to two touchdowns.”
After forcing a Flyer punt on their first possession, Jesse Likens ran three yards to cap a 13-play, 80-yard drive at the 11:16 mark of the second quarter to give the Eagles a 6-0 lead after the extra point from Sharosh Seth was no good.
Norwalk St. Paul went three-and-out on its next possession and another time-consuming drive (6:59) by the Eagles (11 plays, 70 yards) made it 13-0, as Likens scored on a 13-yard run with 2:19 left in the half.
“Everything was won up front in the trenches,” Prologo said. “This was a physical ballgame. We said we were going to win it up front, which we did. Obviously, when you have playmakers like Cam (Hollobaugh) and Jesse and an offensive line doing what they did tonight, you’ve got a chance.
“The first half, we had a couple of mistakes and it probably should have been a little bit more (of a lead). We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot like that; not against good football teams or the result is, we’re in a hell of a ballgame after dominating a half.”
Those mistakes consisted of a Hollobaugh interception on the opening drive when they were in Flyer territory and a late pass before halftime that could have possibly added to the lead.
Hollobaugh did more than enough for the Eagles, though, with 30 carries for 168 yards to go with his 59 yards passing.
“Our line played great tonight,” Hollobaugh said. “They were really physical to match their physicality. They opened a lot of holes for me. I just went to work.”
For Norwalk, it was a lot of what-ifs in the opening half. The Flyers had some early success running the ball but a quarterback sack put them in a third-and-long to end their first drive after momentum from an Adam Baker interception set the Flyers up at their own 41.
“We felt confident we could run the ball,” Livengood said. “We just weren’t able to string things together. We picked up a first down on our first drive and then sort of sputtered. We called a pass play and lost some yards. We punt. Our second drive we got three-and-out. Our first two plays we picked up decent yardage.
“We pass and then we punt. Third drive, we fumble on second down after we were picking up some decent yards. We just sputtered. We were playing hard and well defensively. They had to fight for every yard they got. They possessed the ball well and we just couldn’t get those stops.”
Still, St. Paul made it interesting as it moved the ball 58 yards on its opening possession of the second half and Will Stieber’s 10-yard run cut the score to 13-7 at the 9:41 mark of the third quarter.
“We just talked and didn’t have much in the way of adjustments scheme wise,” Stieber said. “We just wanted to be true to ourselves and that’s running the football. Let’s take that opening drive and cut the score in half.”
Kennedy responded again with a 10-play, 59-yard drive with John Bruce Jr. running it in from nine yards out to make it 20-7 with 4:26 remaining in the third quarter.
“We have great leadership,” Prologo said. “Our seniors are great leaders. That’s what you needed at that point. They came out and punched us in the mouths a little bit. Our kids just said we’re OK and responded.”
The Flyers though wouldn’t go away as Camden Crabbs’ 2-yard run made it a one-possession game, 20-14, with 6:54 left in the contest.
“They came out firing in the second half,” Hollobaugh said. “They weren’t giving up. We had to pick up our intensity to match it so we could keep the lead and finish out the game. We definitely had to lift up our intensity.”
Hollabaugh did that himself, as he scored on a 50-yard run for a 27-14 lead with 4:34 left.
The Flyers immediately responded with Baker hauling in Myron Stall’s 60-yard play-action pass to make it 27-21 with 4:18 left.
Kennedy though, ran a few minutes off the clock on its next possession and would have run out the clock if not for a holding penalty on third down.
Still, the defense came through when it mattered as the Flyers’ final possession ended at their own 44 when Stall’s pass fell incomplete with a little less than a minute left.
“Second half, we put together some good drives,” Livengood said. “We had a couple of good stops. We had the long play-action to bring it within one touchdown and give ourselves a chance. We had to burn all our timeouts. At that point, you don’t get to run your offense the way you want to. We just came up a little short there at the end. We played toe-to-toe with a great football team”