Friday night lights featured the Kennedy Knights hosting the Clinton Governors in what was a Jekyll and Hyde-like victory for Kennedy. But still, it was a victory for Kennedy, and that’s all that matters.
The rivalry was flooded with penalties and turnovers, but it also provided a glimpse of strong athletic performances by both teams that kept it close en route to a 16-14 Kennedy victory.
The first half consisted of promising play by Clinton as the school enjoyed a comfortable two-touchdown lead at halftime. That lead, however, would be all the Governors could muster after a Knights rally sent them to a dramatic home victory.
“The game was really close, we had to really grind it out,” said Kennedy head coach Augie Tieri. “We felt really confident going into this game, we didn’t expect it necessarily to be as tight as it was. We had a lot of confidence coming into tonight, but Clinton came out fighting. They have a lot to be proud of.”
Most of that resilience came in the second half.
“I felt like our team showed a lot of heart in the second half, showed a lot of fight,” Tieri said. “Idrissa Nikiema came out with the kick return, set the tone, and we never looked back from there. The defense also did a phenomenal job all night long.”
Nikiema returned the opening kickoff of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown to put Kennedy on the scoreboard. It also ignited what would become a huge momentum shift for the Knights on both sides of the ball.
“I saw the ball and one of my teammates was like, ‘Come on, you gotta score this,’” Nikiema said. “I was like, ‘I need to score this.’ I just ran with the ball, I made one move and saw that it was open field. I used my speed and we scored.”
Nikiema is new to football, but feels his switch from another football — soccer — was the right move.
“I really love this game,” Nikiema said. “We just sat down, relaxed, and tried to win this game today.”
Following the kick return, Nikiema flexed skills from his previous sport, executing a perfectly placed onside kick that Kennedy recovered to retain possession.
The Knights’ gutsy call was enough to set up one of the key plays of the game when Kennedy quarterback Joshua Rivera dumped a pass to Abubacar Fofana for the touchdown. A 30-yard field goal by Nikiema later in the third quarter gave Kennedy the deciding points in their two-point win.
“The atmosphere was big, it was a big game,” Rivera said. “I missed some targets that I should have hit early on, but once we started clicking and hitting on all cylinders, we were good. We have a great receiving corps.”
Rivera, like Tieri, noted that it was their ability to stop Clinton’s offensive runs that helped them win the contest.
“The defense definitely sealed this game for us,” Rivera said. “The way they play, nonstop, consistently every play.”
The Knights also saw strong play from running back Jahmeal Martin. The senior had 16 carries for 96 rushing yards.
“This win feels great, really great,” Martin said. “We got to the second half, we knew we were down. I told my team, ‘The score is 0-0, we need to go out there and fight, fight until the last quarter,’ and that’s what we did.”
On the opposing sideline, Clinton knows there’s plenty room for improvement heading into next week.
“I saw some good things from the team, we were really proud,” Head Coach John Applebee said. “Now we’re 0-3, so in the first half when we started to see the ball move, especially offensively, that was a good sign. Now we just really need to put together two halves. We finally play a home game next week and hopefully we can get a win.”
On the bright side for Clinton, quarterback Jailen Nias and running back Jaron Johnson showed promising play.
“We have to come out the same way next week, but we have to bring out the intensity in the second half,” said Nias, who passed for 100 yards and a touchdown. “We just have to keep going and going.”
Johnson added that extra effort has helped him elevate his game and will continue to help his team down the line.
“I’m just trying to better my team and do whatever I need to do to win every week,” Johnson said.
“I’m very happy with my team’s performance. We have a lot of young kids that are coming up and making a name for themselves. We fought through it, and we only lost by two.”
Kennedy looks to even its record at 2 when the Knights travel to Staten Island to take on defending city champion Curtis on Friday afternoon at 3:30, while Clinton will host Campus Magnet on Oct. 1 at 11 a.m.