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Turnaround season for JFK ends in PSAL playoffs

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When Alex Vega took over the John F. Kennedy Campus football program last May, he looked at his players, glanced at the upcoming schedule, and thought he had the makings of a team that maybe — just maybe — had a shot at a playoff berth.

Vega didn’t want to raise the bar too high in his first season. But in reality, there was nowhere to go but up after the Knights slogged their way through a two-win campaign prior to his arrival.

“I thought we could win five games in my first year, I really did,” said Vega, who also played his high school ball at Kennedy. “I didn’t know if that was going to be good enough to make the playoffs, but I thought we’d be good enough to win five games. And we did.”

As it turned out, it also was good enough for Kennedy to make the playoffs. Only that postseason experience didn’t turn out nearly the way Vega and the Knights had hoped it would. On a frigid Saturday afternoon in Coney Island against sixth-seeded Lincoln, the 11th-seeded Knights saw their season end with a deflating 48-0 loss to the Railsplitters in the first round of the Public School Athletic League playoffs.

“This was just one of those days where we couldn’t put up points like we wanted to,” said senior running back Gary Kennedy.

The Knights entered the game a battered and bruised bunch as injuries suffered in a loss to Midwood two weeks prior played havoc with Vega’s game plan for Lincoln. Starting quarterback Franklyn Garcia was lost for the season in that game with a broken hand, forcing the untested Chaze Anthony Milton to go under center. Running back Chris Boadi dealt with a wound on his foot that seemed to reopen every time he ran, and Gary Kennedy himself was dealing with an ankle injury that left him with a noticeable limp.

So the Knights were behind the eight ball right from the kickoff, and Lincoln took no pity on them.

It took Lincoln just 58 seconds on its first possession to score with a 1-yard run from Lloyd Williams for an early 7-0 lead. After a Kennedy punt, Lincoln was at it again as Williams added a 35-yard TD run for a 13-point lead. One Kennedy punt later, the Railsplitters increased their lead to 19-0 after an 11-yard run — this time by Israel Abanikanda — and Lincoln never looked back. Its lead swelled to 27-0 early in the second quarter, eventually growing that to 33-0 at the half as they simply dominated.

One other thing working against the Knights was the weather. The fierce winds coming off the ocean just a few blocks away made it difficult to form any kind of passing game the Knights would need to mount any sort of comeback attempt.

In fact, it was so bitterly cold in Brooklyn last Saturday that Lincoln’s cheerleaders were dressed in parkas while the majority of fans in the stands of aluminum bleachers opted to stand rather than sit to avoid the possibility of mild frostbite to their, um, hind quarters. Think Leonardo DiCaprio-and-the-end-of-Titanic cold.

“With those injuries from the Midwood game, it was just too much for us to overcome,” Vega said. “But with all the adversity they faced this year, I told them I’m proud of them for where we ended up. You don’t want to end up losing in the playoffs like we did today, but at the end of the day, they gave everything they had, and I’ll always be appreciative for their efforts.”

For Gary Kennedy, it was the swan song game of his stellar career, one that was capped with him logging double-digit touchdowns this season.

“It was a good season and a good run for us,” Kennedy said. “I had great teammates going out there every week no matter what and no matter who we were facing and bringing everything they got. And I think I had a good career, too. I ended this year with 10 touchdowns and 600 yards (rushing), so I can’t complain.”

Now Vega will look to build off this season as he continues to mold Kennedy back into the powerhouse program it was during his playing days. And he has one memory of this game that he will use as motivation in the off-season.

“I took a picture of the scoreboard and I’ll always remember what they did with the onside kick” late in the game, Vega said. “I thought at the end they kind of ran up the score on us.

“That’s OK if that’s what they want to do. But we’re going to use that as fuel for our off-season.”

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