Warren JFK in
Region 23 final
By MARTY GITLIN
Perhaps the football gods were sending a message to Warren JFK early in its Division VII, Region 23 final Friday night against Mogadore.
Fate indeed frowned upon the Eagles when the Wildcats shocked one and all by eschewing a punt and converting on fourth-and-2 at its own 22-yard-line three plays after the opening kickoff.
JFK was certainly not doomed when Mogadore proceeded to score a touchdown off a ridiculous 23-play, 10-minute drive. But it set in motion a disastrous first half that played a huge role in a 35-7 defeat that gave the Wildcats their 18th state tournament berth.
Mogadore ran the ball 21 times on its march. It was not as if it tore through the Eagles. Not one of its runs on the drive exceeded eight yards. In fact, JFK stopped running back Austin Williams three times at its 1-yard-line before he barely scored off right tackle. But it nevertheless proved disheartening for the Eagles, who never fully recovered.
“[The drive] took nearly the whole quarter,” lamented JFK coach Jeff Bayuk. “It had an effect on the whole game. When a team pounds it down your throat like that, it’s kind of demoralizing.”
It would not have been possible had Mogadore counterpart Matt Adorni not had the courage to keep his offense on the field after the first three rushes had netted just eight yards.
“It took me about two seconds [to make that decision] ... I’m an idiot,” Adorni joked. “But I had confidence that we could pound it out.”
That first touchdown seemed to unnerve the Eagles, who fell behind 14-0 two plays later when a perfect pass from quarterback Bobby Jefferson bounced off wideout Hyland Burton into the eager hands of Wildcats defensive back Gavin Chew, who raced 42 yards for another score.
The blitz continued on the next JFK possession when Jefferson tossed a short pass right to Williams. Running back Josh Tompkins raced around left end for an 18-yard score on the following play to make it 21-0.
A ferocious Mogadore pass rush continued to make things difficult for Jefferson, who was sacked four times on the night. He appeared flustered on the next series when he threw a pass backward under pressure from defensive end Collin Kelly, who dropped him twice in the game. Fellow lineman Jeremiah Sanders fell on it and, one play later, Wildcats quarterback Zeddie Pollock hit wideout Jarad Dunn in stride for a 39-yard touchdown that stretched it to 28-0.
Bayuk could simply not expect his team to overcome a spate of turnovers, particularly against a Mogadore defense that has pitched four shutouts this season and allowed an average of just 11 points a game.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “They have a very good defense. And when you make mistakes like that in a playoff game, it can catch up with you and it did. I thought we could throw the ball on them, but we struggled to do that.”
JFK did turn the tables briefly late in the first half when speedy junior wideout Jacob Coates bolted around right end for a 65-yard touchdown to chop the deficit to 28-7. Coates also denied Mogadore a score minutes later with an interception deep in JFK territory. But the Wildcats put it away late in the third when Williams rushed 13 yards to the 1, fumbled the ball and teammate Nate Confere fell on the ball in the end zone.
The Eagles mounted no threat thereafter, but they had nothing to hang their heads about after playing themselves on the doorstep of a state tournament berth following a 2-8 season. And Bayuk was not complaining.
“We’re not just a playoff team,” he said. “We’re a regional runner-up and these kids should be very proud of what they achieved this year. We just ran into a better team tonight.”