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JFK outlasts Dalton, 20-13

JFK’s Thomas Valent celebrates after JFK defeated Dalton 20-13 in overtime, Saturday nights regional final game at Marlington High School. (David Dermer/Warren Tribune Chronicle)

ALLIANCE — As the John F. Kennedy players walked off the field towards the locker room, down 13 at halftime, senior Eddie Kiernan couldn’t help but be reminded of what transpired at the end of last season.

The Eagles were down, but they were still in the game. They just needed a spark.

Head coach Dom Prologo said Kiernan and fellow senior Brady Mocella addressed the Eagles in the locker room at halftime.

“I talk about our kids’ leadership every week,” Prologo said. “You should have been in our locker room listening to those seniors.”

The senior duo gave JFK the spark it needed, as the Eagles rallied to score 20 unanswered points to defeat Dalton 20-13 in overtime Saturday night to win the Division VII regional title — their second straight and ninth overall regional championship.

JFK’s Antwan Brown runs the football in the open field during overtime of Saturday nights regional final game at Marlington High School. JFK won 20-13 in overtime. (David Dermer/Warren Tribune Chronicle)

“Going into the half, we were making a lot of mistakes, and we were kind of down on ourselves,” Kiernan said. “It reminded me a lot of last year’s state championship game where we weren’t down that bad, but we really were hanging our heads. At halftime, we just rallied together and we said we’re not going out like this.

“We’re going to fight for each other, we’re going to fight for the school, for our family, for the ‘K,’ and we’re just going to come out and play tough, play physical and harder than we did in the first half.”

In the extra period, JFK’s offense took the field first and scored in four plays, culminating in sophomore quarterback Caleb Hadley’s 1-yard touchdown run.Then, Dalton’s offense had its shot. The Bulldogs got to the 5-yard line and three plays later were faced with a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. JFK senior Antwan Brown intercepted Dalton quarterback Ethan Stutz at the goal line, sealing the win for the Eagles.

“Our mentality was just that we were still in the game and we were going to do whatever it took to win this game,” Hadley said.

In regulation, after building their 13-0 advantage, the Bulldogs had several opportunities in the second half to extend their lead, driving several times deep into JFK territory, but each time the Eagles’ defense made the stops it needed — whether by intercepting Stutz, forcing a punt or causing a turnover-on-downs.JFK’s secondary held Stutz to 109 yards on just 7-for-27 passing with three interceptions.

JFK’s aidan Rossi celebrates after a tackle for loss during overtime of Saturday nights regional final game at Marlington High School. JFK won 20-13 in overtime. (David Dermer/Warren Tribune Chronicle)

“They answered the bell — they answered the challenge that their captains gave them and that’s how we were able to make those stops,” Prologo said.

The defense’s second interception, also on the goal line, was the catalyst that allowed the Eagles to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter.After the officials spotted the ball at the 1-yard line, JFK marched 99 yards, finishing off the drive with a 41-yard touchdown run by Brown to complete the comeback and tie the game 13-13 with 5:27 to play.

Each team had a chance to get go-ahead scores in the final minutes, but turnovers ended those opportunities.JFK had just 82 total yards of offense in the first half, as the Eagles struggled to move the ball offensively in the first half against the Bulldogs’ big, physical front-seven. With a couple play-calling tweaks offensively, including more outside runs instead of the inside runs up the middle that weren’t working in the first half, JFK called on its playmaker Brown to help fuel its comeback.

“We were hurting them with the outside run, so why go away from what’s working?” Hadley said. “Why run inside, when we can run it outside — we got skill and we got athletes and that’s what we did.”

After being held to just 46 rushing yards in the first half, Brown exploded with 198 rushing yards in the second half, including both touchdowns that helped force overtime. He finished with 244 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

JFK’s Eddie Kiernan celebrates after tackling Dalton’s Jaden Schlabach for a loss during the first half of Saturday nights regional final game at Marlington High School. JFK won 20-13 in overtime. (David Dermer/Warren Tribune Chronicle)

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say this — Antwan Brown is special,” Prologo said.

JFK will now face Newark Catholic next Saturday in the Division VII state semifinals. The Green Wave advanced with a 35-20 win over Shadyside.

“I’ve been to three regional championship games — won two, lost one, and this was just the most unique one I’ve been a part of,” Kiernan said. “First time I’ve ever been to overtime. This is just the most unique team, the closest team ever and the way we battled back to win the second half and win overtime. This team’s going places if we keep working.”

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