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Polar opposite conditions this year for JFK’s title game showdown against New Bremen

Staff photo / Brian Yauger. Warren JFK senior Thomas Valent runs through a JFK banner ahead of their state semifinal matchup this past weekend.

WARREN — If Warren John F. Kennedy facing off against New Bremen this weekend for the Division VII state championship sounds like a bit of a “deja vu” moment, that’s because it is.

The Eagles are looking to avenge their 31-0 title game defeat to the Cardinals from 2020 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton on Saturday at 3 p.m.

But the circumstances surrounding the 2020 matchup were very different compared to this year’s looming showdown.

Nothing was certain during the COVID year in 2020. Teams had to play with different rules and guidelines and there was always the constant looming threat of a team-wide quarantine and canceled games as a result of positive COVID cases.

“COVID was a whole different animal that year,” said JFK head coach Dom Prologo. “We weren’t sure we were going to play games every day.”

During 2020 championship game week, JFK quarantined its players in the school gym and conference room where they participated in virtual classes to keep from being inadvertently exposed to COVID, according to a social media post from JFK principal Alyse Consiglio.

Not only that, but OHSAA changed the game location from Columbus to Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium at the last minute.

“We were practicing the day before, and the kids had packed all their stuff to go stay overnight in Columbus,” Prologo said. “Our (athletic director) came running out to the field and said when you’re done with practice, come back to the school. (OHSAA) changed the game to Massillon — we’re not staying overnight anymore. So that was another huge adjustment. Our kids had packed for it and boom, they’re going home after practice.”

With all the circumstances that they had to deal with, the Eagles ended up coming up short in that championship game to the Cardinals.

“That was a big adjustment,” Prologo said. “I’m not making excuses. We just didn’t come ready to play that day, so we didn’t give (New Bremen) our best effort. They beat us and they probably should have the way they played. But hopefully (this year) our kids come with the attitude that (New Bremen) did that year.”

Contrast all that with Kennedy’s plans this week for this year’s championship game.

JFK started getting into a championship week routine last week. The Eagles made a midweek visit to Orrville on Wednesday to allow the players to get acclimated to their surroundings, before continuing with practice at Warren G. Harding’s Mollenkopf Stadium the rest of the week and then playing the game against Newark Catholic last Saturday.

This week, the Eagles are sticking with a similar routine as well.

On Wednesday, the team traveled to Canton and practiced in an indoor facility, had lunch and visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the site of Saturday’s game.

“We’re not allowed in the stadium,” Prologo said. “But it lets our kids at least see the stadium a little bit and walk around on the sidewalks outside and get the aura of the place.”

Then, the Eagles will practice at Mollenkopf Stadium on Thursday evening and Friday morning in the leadup to Saturday’s game, before a school-wide send-off event at 12:45 p.m. at Gillen Gymnasium will see the team depart for Canton.

“We’ll be back at Mollenkopf like always, practicing outside to make sure we’re acclimated to what the weather is, then we’ll travel up there and stay overnight (Friday),” Prologo said.

Like the circumstances, the Eagles will be hoping for a different result against the Cardinals this time around.

nmadhavan@tribtoday.com

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