Third-and-29. That was the predicament facing the Kennedy Knights last Friday night in their Public School Athletic League battle with Brooklyn Tech.
Kennedy was nursing a 12-0 lead late in the third quarter, but found itself pinned on its own 13-yard line. With more than enough time for Tech to climb back into the game, the Knights needed a big play, and in a hurry. They needed to do the near impossible of picking up 29 yards on third down to keep their drive alive, and keep the ball out of the hands of a comeback-minded Tech.
Is there even a page in the Knights’ playbook for such a dire situation? Turns out there is. It’s called “give the ball to Emmanuel Nkwocha — and get out of his way.”
Nkwocha, the Knights’ 220-pound bruising running back, took a pitch from quarterback Chaze Anthony Milton, found a crease in Tech’s defense, and raced 87 yards for an unlikely touchdown. Desperation turned to elation, and Kennedy went on to post a 28-6 victory over the Engineers.
Kennedy, which went 5-4 last year, is now 3-0 on the season.
“I want to put the ball in the hands of one of my more explosive players, and if he gets a crease, he can go,” Kennedy head coach Alex Vega said. “Our guys just executed perfectly, like I expected them to do. He found that crease and was gone.”
Kennedy, which boasts a superlative backfield trio of Nkwocha, Karamogo Sylla and Chris Boadi, was forced to play without Boadi’s services due to an ankle injury. But no Boadi proved no problem for the Knights as Nkwocha and Sylla combined for three touchdowns. Sylla opened the scoring with an 8-yard scoring run in the first quarter for a 6-0 Kennedy lead before closing things out with a one-yard run with 3:43 to play to ice the game. David Obeng-Agyapong provided Kennedy’s other score with a 22-yard scoring scamper in the third.
But not to be lost in all the scoring was the brilliant play of the Knights defense. For the third game in a row, Kennedy’s smothering unit — led by Sylla, Nkwocha, Alberto Olivo, Howard Cohen, Caleb Hart, Mory Kourouma and Cesar Reyes — yielded just six points as the unit gets stronger with each passing game.
“I’m more excited about our defense than I am our offense,” Vega said. “Down the road, that’s what’s going to get us to the promised land. You can get into slumps on offense, have games where you’re having trouble moving the ball. So our defense is going to have to be the one to keep us in games.”
Sylla, a senior who is in the middle of everything on both sides of the ball, thinks this Kennedy defense has achieved elite status.
“We don’t get a lot of credit for it, but it’s one of the top defenses in the city,” he said.
“I think maybe we’re top five in the PSAL. People might disagree with me, but they’re going to see.”
Kennedy’s defense made two defining stands early in the game as it held Tech without a score following a 13-play drive to open the game that stalled on the Kennedy 16-yard line. When Tech recovered a Sylla fumble at the Kennedy 14-yard line a few seconds later, Kennedy’s defense took over and stiffened once again, holding the Engineers without a score.
“We’re trying to build that mentality of playing championship defense, and little by little, we’re getting there,” Vega said. “Overall in this game I’d say it was a very solid effort.”
It was that early fumble that very nearly cost Kennedy points that motivated Sylla the rest of the evening.
“That play woke me up,” said the running back, who rushed for 165 yards and two scores. “I’m a captain and I can’t make mistakes like that. I had to redeem myself.”
That he did, and more, as Kennedy now has the distinct look of a legitimate title contender in the PSAL this season.
“This is a special team,” Sylla said. “This team can go far.”
Next up for Kennedy is a home game Friday night hosting Boys & Girls High from Brooklyn. It’s a chance to go to 4-0 on the season and, oh yeah, Boadi also is expected to return to bolster the Knights’ lineup.
“I’ve been on both sides,” Vega said of his team’s record. “I’ve been undefeated and I’ve also been winless. I’d rather be undefeated.”