Where they want to be
Kennedy gets to title game in this most unusual year
MASSILLON — The Kennedy football team is right where it expected to be, believe it or not.
Through a coaching change. Through a pandemic. Through one of the wildest years in centuries … the Eagles found a way to reach the Division VII football state championship game.
It took every second to make it possible.
JFK standout Cam Hollobaugh played like his superstar status, and Nick Fordeley batted down a pass in the end zone on the final play as the Eagles hung on for a 20-13 victory over Newark Catholic on Friday at Massillon’s Paul Brown Stadium.
“I’d be ticked if we weren’t (in this position),” said first-year coach Dom Prologo of overcoming so much to reach the state championship, where the Eagles will play New Bremen (9-2) next Friday afternoon. “That’s the team we had coming back. I would feel like I failed this group of kids. The expectations this year were to be here.”
Hollobaugh is a major reason they made it.
The senior quarterback ran for 125 yards on 29 carries, scoring all three of the Eagles’ touchdowns. He also was a key part of a hard-hitting defense that made big plays at critical junctures. One of the biggest turn of events came toward the end of the first half.
Newark Catholic (7-4) took advantage of great field position at the Eagles’ 36. The Green Wave got a 32-yard run down to the 1-yard line by Tristan Gorius, and Drew Hess scored two plays later on a 1-yard plunge. However, placekicker Ryan Auer missed his first extra point of the season wide right. He was 40-for-40 before the miss.
JFK (9-2) answered in a hurry.
With 3:23 left in the half, the Eagles started the ensuing drive with Hollobaugh launching a 36-yard pass to Sejjan Couto, who made a lunging grab. Fordeley followed with two straight catches, a 7-yarder and a 20-yard grab to the 10-yard line. Hollobaugh scored three plays later on a bruising 3-yard score and a 7-6 lead after Sarosh Sheth kicked the extra point.
There were just 51 seconds left in the half when the Green Wave started its next possession, but they hit on a wide receiver screen. Tanner Elwell nearly scored on the 43-yard catch and run to the JFK 24. Quarterback Cole Canter then scrambled and made a nice throw on the run to Brandon Buchanan for a 20-yard gain down to the 4. That’s when things got interesting.
A holding call on the next play negated a TD and pushed the Green Wave back to the 15. A bad snap sent them back another 8 yards, and then there was a false start as they rushed to spike the ball and stop the clock. Eventually, Auer’s 42-yard field goal attempt was tipped by Hollobaugh and was off line as time expired.
“I think that changed the game, honestly,” said Hollobaugh of the series of events. “When we drove it down there and punched them right back in the mouth after they got us. There was only like 3 minutes left before half when we did that. … Coach talks about it all the time. Those plays right before can kill you. We kept our composure, and we didn’t let them get anything.”
The Eagles kept the momentum going.
Hollobaugh returned the second-half kickoff 55 yards to the NC 30-yard line. He then ran the ball six times and eventually scored from 2 yards out to put JFK up, 14-6. The defense came up big from there.
The Green Wave went three-and-out on back-to-back possessions despite starting drives near midfield (45-yard line and 42). After the second punt, JFK put together another long scoring drive. Hollobaugh and Jesse Likens both made big plays on an 80-yard drive that was capped by another 2-yard TD run by Hollobaugh.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hollobaugh, who also completed 5-of-5 passes for 74 yards, was nearly unstoppable in the second half. He ran over, through, around and stiff-armed would-be defenders to will the Eagles on offense.
“Cam Hollobaugh was a grown man playing football tonight,” Prologo said. “… Cam is our Tim Tebow. Remember when Tebow gave that speech? He said no one will ever give more effort than me, and we’re going to win every game — and they did. That’s Cam. He refuses to lose. He’s a competitor.”
Newark Catholic had plenty of fight as well.
The game looked to be over when an NC pass on fourth-and-18 was just behind the intended receiver with 3:59 remaining in the fourth quarter. JFK got one first down before its punt was partially blocked. The Green Wave took over at the JFK 47, and after converting a fourth-and-1, they scored on a perfectly placed 9-yard fade route to the back of the end zone. Brandon Buchanan tapped his feet in bounds on a great throw and catch to make the score 20-13 with 16 seconds remaining.
The ball went through the legs of a JFK player on the ensuing onside kick, and NC recovered at the Eagles’ 41. They gained 22 yads on a pass to Buchanan and, after spiking the ball, had one final play with 6 seconds left. The 6-foot-4 Fordeley nearly picked off a heave into the end zone, but it went off his hands and was nearly caught before hitting the turf.
That meant the Eagles earned a trip to the state championship game, which will be played at Fortress Obetz in Columbus at 2 p.m. Friday.
“It’s just the best feeling in the world,” Hollobaugh said. “We work all year round, all summer. JFK has a tradition, and we’re getting a seat at the table. There’s no better feeling.”