By STEVE RUMAN
MINERAL RIDGE — In 2006, Warren John F. Kennedy and Clairton (Pa.) were two of the top small-school football programs in their respective states. Kennedy finished its season 14-1, and the state runner-up in Division V. Clairton won the WPIAL Class A title and advanced to the PIAA state semi-finals.
When the two teams clashed Friday at Joe Lane Sports Complex in Mineral Ridge, it appeared the programs were headed in opposite directions. Clairton entered the night 3-0 and ranked No. 1 in Pennsylvania, while Kennedy was struggling to find its groove at 2-2.
It took the Eagles just one play to discover the spark they were looking for.
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Kennedy running back Jared Province took a hand-off from quarterback Dominic LaPolla and rumbled 76 yards to give the Eagles a lead they would never surrender.
Kennedy went on to blast Clairton 44-18, while Province finished the night rushing for 283 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
Couldn’t stop Province
“We simply couldn’t handle [Province],” said Clairton coach Tony Nola. “Yeah, we were 3-0 coming in here … but we never faced a team nearly like the JFK team we played tonight.”
LaPolla also had a productive night for the Eagles. The junior rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown, and completed TD passes of 16 and 14 yards to Nick Brown.
In all, the Kennedy offense racked up 442 yards while limiting the explosive Clairton attack to 267 yards. The Bears entered the night averaging 44 points per contest.
“This was a really big win for us against a very good ball club,” said Kennedy coach Tony Napolet. “We were in the doldrums. But tonight, we played good on both sides of the ball all night long, and we went up against some very talented athletes.”
The Clairton roster includes three linebackers who have committed to Division I-A colleges.
JFK’s defense delivers
After Province gave JFK a quick 7-0 advantage, the Eagles’ defense responded when it recorded a safety midway through the first period. Bears quarterback Tony Webb was swarmed under for a nine-yard loss to give Kennedy a 9-0 advantage.
JFK extended its advantage to 16-0 midway through the second quarter when LaPolla capped off a six-play, 37-yard drive with a 16-yard pass to Brown.
The Bears cut their deficit to 16-6 just before the end of the first half when Manny Williams recovered a fumble and ran two yards for a score.
Williams, who will be attending Pitt next year, finished the night with just 22 yards while Zaire Washington led the Bears with 134 yards and a TD on 25 carries.
“Our defense was pretty sound tonight,” Napolet said. “Hopefully this is the start of us going in the right direction.”
JFK pads lead
Province scored a pair of third period touchdowns on runs of one yard and 60 yards as Kennedy extended its lead to 30-12. The Eagles then tacked on a pair of fourth-quarter scores on a LaPolla 32-yard run and a LaPolla-to-Brown 14-yard pass.
Napolet, who has been fighting an illness throughout the season, said the win was just what the doctor ordered.
“I know this much, I feel a lot better than I did three hours ago. These types of wins will get ya feeling better every time,” Napolet said.