Two with tradition

JFK, Newark Catholic have long histories of success

Staff file photo / R. Michael Semple Kennedy running back Jesse Likens (2), shown in a playoff win over Lucas, takes the field with the Eagles tonight in a Division VII state semifinal at Massillon.

WARREN — The John F. Kennedy football team has met its match — in terms of traditions.

The Eagles will battle perennial power Newark Catholic in a Division VII state semifinal at 7 tonight at Paul Brown Stadium in Massillon.

“I knew Newark Catholic had a tradition-rich program like us, but when I looked into it I was a little surprised,” first-year JFK coach Dom Prologo said. “They have more appearances and a lot more championships. That’s not something we normally run into. So I told our guys that this is a program challenge. We want to prove we’re the better program in recent years.”

The Green Wave have won eighth state titles and been runners-up six other times. They are in the midst of their 37th playoff season and are 78-28 all-time in postseason play.

Kennedy is in its 25th playoff season with three state titles and seven runner-up finishes and owns a 40-22 overall playoff record.

Staff file photo / R. Michael Semple Sejjan Couto, left, of Kennedy escapes a Dalton tackler during the Eagles' playoff victory over the Bulldogs.

This season, Newark Catholic is 7-3 with losses to Division II Licking Heights (23-14), Division IV Heath (20-14) and Division V Johnstown (13-10 in overtime).

Kennedy enters at 8-2. The winner will play Lima Central Catholic (8-1) or New Bremen (8-2) in the state championship, which will be played at Fortress Obetz next Friday at 2 p.m..

Kennedy won the 2016 Division VII state title, beating Minster, 24-6. The Green Wave, competing in Division VI that season, fell to Cuyahoga Heights, 30-14, in a state semifinal. Newark Catholic last won a state title in 2007 when it defeated Bascom Hopewell-Loudon 28-14 in Division VI.

Kennedy senior Cam Hollobaugh doesn’t care about past seasons. He just wants to go out with a bang.

“We’re just getting ready to play another big game, like we have in the past month or so,” said Hollobaugh, a quarterback/running back offensively and a safety on defense. “We just need to keep playing our game no matter who the opponent is and be physical. The physicality ramps up more every week and we’ve got to match it.”

Kennedy dominated the trenches last week in a 21-0 regional final win over Lucas. Hollobaugh rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Sejjan Couto. Hollobaugh has rushed for 1,302 yards and 28 touchdowns on 181 carries this season.

“Cam is a competitor no matter if he’s playing badminton or whatever,” Prologo said. “He’s always led by example and this year he’s leading with his words, too. He’s encouraging his teammates to be their best every single day. Just him being there forces his teammates to raise their level. He epitomizes everything a leader should be, on and off the field.

“He plays hard and his competitiveness would be … akin to maybe the high school version of Tim Tebow.”

The Eagles also dominated at the point of the attack defensively against Lucas, earning their second shutout of the season.

“I think that was our best defensive game of the season,” Hollobaugh said. “Our defensive line was outstanding and our linebackers were, too. That made (Lucas) go away from their run game and pass more in the second half. We all did our jobs in the secondary and our D-line pressured their quarterback.”

The Eagles are averaging 30.7 points per game and allowing 17.7. They have allowed 39 points the past three weeks after winning the Region 25 playoff opener, 65-33, against Lowellville.

“We’ve definitely made some large strides defensively lately, but this week we see a (Newark Catholic) quarterback (Cole Canter) who is very reminiscent of that Lowellville quarterback (Vinnie Ballone). He’s 6-4, and is a clone (Ballone) in build and arm strength. He doesn’t run it as much as (Ballone), but he is a capable runner to escape pressure.”

Canter is 75-for-136 passing for 1,128 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has 140 yards rushing and five TDs on 43 runs.

The Green Wave, which averages 29.2 points and allows just 10.1, is led in rushing by sophomore Kyle Langenbrunner (99 rushes, 554 yards, 9 TDs) and Tristan Gorius (56-140, 5 TDs). Langenbrunner had 22 runs for 157 yards, both career bests, in a 10-7 win over Shadyside in a regional final last week.

Tanner Elwell (20 catches, 371 yards, 3 TDs) and Brandon Buchanan (17-293, 5 TDs) are Canter’s top targets.

“Their offensive line is strong in the middle and the three of them are two-way starters,” Prologo said. “That’s their strength, on the lines. We’ve got to win up front again. Our war dogs have to get it done. We also need to limit or eliminate our penalties and play turnover-free again, like last week.

“Defensively, we have to have great eye discipline and tackle well. We’ve improved in all those areas and that’s why we’re playing some of our best football right now.”

Newark Catholic’s offensive line is led by center Games Claggett (6-0, 240) and guards David Roshon (6-1, 240) and Ethan Wendt (6-0, 225).

Roshon leads the defensive line at tackle, with Drew Hess (6-4, 190) standing out at end. Ryan Poly leads the defensive backfield. He had a pick-6 in a 35-9 win over Glouster Trimble in a region al semifinal and his interception last week set up the winning field goal against Shadyside.


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