Mustangs Block PAT on Game’s Final Play to Defeat Patriots for 1st Time in 11 Years
ISELIN, NJ—While a major showdown on the gridiron was taking place on the other side of Woodbridge Township, a battle between long time crosstown rivals was taking place at Lou Bartha Field on Friday night. On paper, it didn’t appear initially that this game would be a classic. J.F. Kennedy had not only returned to the gridiron a week ago after a two week quarantine, but was still looking for its first win of 2020.
In addition, the Mustangs had been outscored in its four previous games by a margin of 160-33. Meanwhile, Colonia recently moved into the 9th spot in the latest GMC Gridiron Top 10, and had played more competitively with a 2-3 overall win including a 20-0 victory at Newark Collegiate a week ago. The Patriots also played competitively against a highly touted Clifton squad (lost 31-20) in week one, and Cranford (lost 17-7), a team that knocked off Ridge decisively in Week 2.
On top of all that was the fact that Colonia had not lost to Kennedy in 11 years. So, the Mustangs had quite an uphill battle on its hands. JFK did something about it though. In its prior home games this season, the Mustangs had entered the field from atop a hill just outside the end zone near the home side of the field. Kennedy lost both games by a combined score of 86-21.
So, prior to the start of the contest versus Colonia, the Mustangs changed things up by coming onto the field like it had done in past seasons, through the area between the bleachers and under the press box on the home side. Moreover, first year head coach, Tarig Holman, who was in quest for his first victory of the season, dressed in a more formal way with a dress shirt, tie, and vest rather than the usual coaching apparel.
In the end those little tweaks in routine must have paid off. For when Keyshawn Dixon leaped up to swat away a Colonia PAT attempt following Jaeden Jones fourth touchdown of the game in overtime, J.F. Kennedy not only won its first game of this crazy 2020 season, and its first game of the Holman era, but it also erased 11 years of disappointment at the hands of its neighborhood foe with a thrilling 27-26 victory.
Despite the foggy conditions, and the defense’s struggles to stop a Colonia running game spearheaded by Jones, the Mustangs were able to overcome thanks in part to the play of its quarterback Connor Heaney, wideouts Isaiah Cherry, Kimani Carrington, Justin Suero, and Jeff Rodriguez. Heaney, who showed glimpses of his older brother Kyle when he was QB at JFK, threw for three TD passes including one to Rodriguez in the extra session to pull out the win.
A bright spot in a season of struggle for the Mustangs, Cherry took a Colonia punt in the second quarter, and ran it back some 89 yards to paydirt. He also combined with Heaney to pull off perhaps the biggest play of the night when a scrambling Heaney ran to his right toward the Colonia sideline on 4th down and 19 in overtime, and threw back to his left to find an open Cherry for a first down inside the Colonia 10 yard line. Moments later, the Mustangs were in the end zone for a 27-20 lead.
Carrington, who scored Kennedy’s only touchdown on a jet sweep in the 2nd period of its loss to Cranford on opening night, was the recipient of a Heaney bomb down the Mustang sideline for a 44 yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead with 8:34 left in the first quarter. Suero also made a huge reception for a score. After Kennedy fell behind Colonia, 20-14 in the third, Suero hauled in a 73 yard TD pass from Heaney that seemed to originally disappear in the thick fog that developed over the course of the contest.
The Patriots managed to block the extra point attempt by the Mustangs with 1:47 left in the third following a JFK penalty pushed the attempt back. The game would remain tied at the end of regulation despite a scoring threat by Kennedy in the closing minutes that was halted by a Mike Testa interception for the Pats with a little over a minute to go in the fourth. JFK got itself past midfield thanks to a strike from Heaney to Rodriguez along the Mustang sideline moments before.
Kennedy had to overcome a rugged Colonia offensive line that managed to do a superb job of creating holes for Jones, a freshman running back, who ended up with 208 yards for the game on 32 carries, or an average of 6.5 yards per carry along with four touchdowns. Fellow running back, Lamont Hampton also contributed with 22 carries for 87 yards while QB Patrick Miller rushed 10 times for 53 yards. In total, the Pats rushed for a total of 348 yards on 64 carries, or an average of 5.4 yards per rush.
Although Colonia’s defense and special teams did come up with a few big plays, they were both hampered by the big play from Kennedy. The Patriots had held the ball for most of the 3rd period culminating with Jones’ 3rd touchdown of the game from about two yards out with 2:46 to go for their first lead of the contest. However, under a minute later, the game was tied again thanks to Heaney’s long hook-up with Suero in the fog and mist.
It was a game full of emotion from the time the two teams entered the field for battle. Kennedy, which was playing its final home game of the season, was looking to give its supporters something to not only cheer about, but also remember for years to come. When Dixon’s outstretched hand knocked Colonia’s PAT away on the game’s final play, the players on the Mustang sideline stormed the field as if they had won a state championship.
With the victory, J.F. Kennedy improves to 1-4 on the season while Colonia falls to 2-4. The Mustangs and Patriots will both return to action on Friday night with Kennedy traveling over to Scotch Plains while Colonia hosts St. Thomas Aquinas. Both teams are scheduled to play over the Thanksgiving holiday with Colonia traveling to play at Scotch Plains on Thanksgiving Eve while Kennedy visits Woodbridge on Thanksgiving morning.
Taking a look at the all time series, Colonia still holds a commanding 34-19-2 lead in the rivalry dating back to 1967. The Patriots have won 22 of the last 28 meetings including one tie since 1994. Colonia’s success also includes two wins in 2014 when the Pats defeated Kennedy in both the regular season and in the North Jersey Section 2 Group 4 sectional semifinals en route to an overtime loss to Phillipsburg in a memorable championship at Rutgers.