YCS, Warren JFK
are more alike
than history suggests
By STEVE RUMN
In an historic sense, the Warren John F. Kennedy and Youngstown Christian football programs are worlds apart.
Kennedy owns one of the richest football resumes in the Mahoning Valley. It includes six state semifinal appearances, three trips to the state title game and a Division IV state championship in 1991. The Eagles have made a Trumbull County-best 19 post-season appearances, and have played in 43 playoff games.
Meanwhile, the Youngstown Christian football program is less than a decade old. The school began participating in the sport in 2004, and is 1-1 in the post-season.
However, you can throw the history books out the window when the two teams meet tonight in a Division VI, Region 21 quarterfinal game at Warren’s Mollenkopf Stadium.
In today’s world, JFK and YCS are very similar.
Kennedy (9-1) enters the contest riding a five-game winning streak. It went 5-0 in North Coast League play, capturing a conference title for the first time in over two decades. Its last loss was a 35-0 setback to Brookfield (10-0). It finished third in Region 21, earning the right to host a first-round game.
Youngstown Christian (7-2) finished sixth in the region. It, too, lost to Brookfield in similar fashion, 33-7. Its other loss was a 45-25 setback at Garaway (10-0).
“I look at Youngstown Christian on film, and I see a team similar to us,” said JFK coach Dave Pappada. “They have good team speed, and they have skill players who are always capable of making a big play. They can beat you in a number of ways.
“Defensively, they come at you. Their end players are big, and they are good football players.”
YCS coach Brian Marrow also acknowledged that his team is similar to JFK in many ways, and believes the contest will come down to execution.
“There are a lot of similarities,” Marrow said. “Really, this game will probably come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes and which team is able to carry out their game plan. It should be a great night, not just for our fans but for all football fans in the area.”
YCS runs a balanced offense, thanks to the tandem of quarterback Emmett Underwood (77 of 141, 1,025 yards, 14 TDs) and running back Ryan Grier (110 carries, 1,166 yards, 15 TDs). Darien Townsend has pulled in 27 receptions (10 for touchdowns) for 421 yards.
“Our guys have been pretty steady all year long,” Marrow said. “I think the biggest key to our success is the fact that they have never gotten too high when they win, and they didn’t get too low following our losses. They have stayed the course.”
Kennedy quarterback Dominic Naples guides the Eagles’ offense. The senior has completed 68 of 115 passes for 1,056 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has 408 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Alec Rossi (117 carries, 989 yards, 11 TD) is Kennedy’s main running threat, while Robert Seger has hurt opponents in a variety of ways. He leads the JFK receiving corps, is one of the area’s top kick-off and punt return threats, and is a weapon in the defensive backfield.
“These three guys were all highly touted coming into the season,” Pappada said. “They were the ones receiving most of the accolades. They had a lot of pressure on their shoulders, and they have responded in remarkable fashion.”
“We have nine other seniors, all who have contributed a great deal. And we have some younger kids who stepped up big as the year went on. This has been a total team effort.”
While Kennedy has the lengthy playoff background, oddly enough Youngstown Christian has the edge in post-season experience for tonight’s game. JFK’s last appearance was in 2009, while YCS qualified last year. It defeated Mogadore in a first-round game before falling to Shadyside.
“The experience of being there once before certainly can’t hurt,” Marrow said. “I know last year, our players weren’t awestruck, and they weren’t content at just being there. I sense the same attitude this time around.”
This marks the first meeting between the two schools, though both coaches believe the game could be a prelude to a lasting relationship.
“We’re a great fit for each other,” Marrow said. “We’re in the same region, we’re just a few miles apart, and it would be a great, competitive area matchup for the fans. Kennedy’s program has always been one of class, with great people. I don’t see why not.”