JFK’s late gamble pays off for win
By Steve Ruman
Warren JFK High football coach Jeff Bayuk is considered one of the area’s elite coaches, always calm under pressure, always decisive in his decision-making.
Saturday at Mollenkopf Stadium, Bayuk second-guessed himself in the waning seconds of the Eagles’ season-opener against Champion. The result was an improbable 18-15 JFK win over the Golden Flashes.
Down by three, Kennedy had possession of the ball at the Champion 9 yard line with six seconds remaining.
Bayuk originally opted to call on his field goal unit in hopes of sending the contest into overtime. However, following a Champion timeout, the offensive unit returned to the field.
Christian Marantis then hooked up with Savone Williamson on a game-winning touchdown pass as time expired.
“The decision had nothing to do with our kicking game,” Bayuk said. “The way Champion was moving the ball on us, I just felt like our best chance was not to go into overtime.
“I was confident we’d get a field goal, but so what ... we’d tie it up and they would get the ball in good field position in overtime.”
The game-ending play capped a wild final possession for the Eagles. They began the drive on their own 48 yard line with just 35 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts.
A 32-yard Marantis-to-Williamson pass play moved the ball inside the 20. Marantis ran for eight yards on a quarterback draw down to the four, then spiked the ball with six seconds left.
The Eagles were penalized five yards for a delay of game, which actually helped Bayuk’s decision-making.
“I figured the extra five yards gave our receivers more room to run their routes,” Bayuk said.
The final play saw Marantis loft up a pass in the right corner of the end zone. The ball sailed past a Champion defender, and Williamson cradled it into his arms as he dove to the turf.
“That was crazy, I just thought to myself that I have to get this,” Williamson said. “I seen [the defender] jump for it, for a second I thought he knocked it down. I knew I had to grab it.”
Marantis is anxious to see his heroics on film.
“I’ll be completely honest, I was looking in the stands for the reaction of the fans,” Marantis said. “I was on the ground, I just looked to see how the fans reacted, that’s how I knew we won.”
The Marantis-to-Williamson combination accounted for all of the Eagles’ scoring. The two hooked up for two second quarter touchdowns on passes of five and 21 yards.
The crazy ending of the game overshadowed an impressive performance by the Golden Flashes, who are guided by first-year coach Tim McGlynn after going 0-10 a year ago.
Champion took the game’s opening possession and put together a 15-play, 57 yard drive which consumed 9:14 of the first quarter. The drive was capped by an Austin Willford six-yard run to give Champion a 7-0 advantage.
Champion regained the lead on its first possession of the second half. This time, the Flashes put together a 16-play drive, eating up 8:46 of the third quarter.
Carter Mast scored from a yard out, and Nick Stahlman ran in the two-point conversion to give Champion a 15-12 lead entering the final period.
Champion’s offense ran the ball 49 times for 172 yards.
“I am really proud of the way our team fought until the last second,” McGlynn said. “The Champion Golden Flashes fought tooth and nail with a team that is much better than we are.”
“That was a great play by [Williamson], it was a great throw by [Marantis]. I just cannot say enough about our kids’ grit and determination.”