It’s one thing to make the long bus ride from the Bronx to Staten Island to face one of the Public School Athletic League’s elite teams in the playoffs. But it’s a challenge made all the more difficult when you’re making that trip without a good many of your weapons.
But that was the situation the Kennedy football team faced last Saturday when the sixth-seeded Knights visited No. 3 Curtis in the opening round of the PSAL’s postseason party. Kennedy, which relied heavily on its dominant backfield of Karamogo Sylla, Chris Boadi and Emmanuel Nkwocha all year in posting an 8-2 regular-season record, was without two of those workhorses among a plethora of players not available for the game due to injury.
“We were down five starters,” Kennedy head coach Alex Vega said.
Karamogo broke his hand against Lehman in the regular-season finale, Boadi has a broken foot. Starting linebacker Victor Hiraldo was out with a broken leg. Tight end and linebacker Alberto Olivo was out with a possible torn ACL. And lineman Angel Sanchez tore his patellar tendon.
“We were a MASH unit,” Vega said, “and we had to play with a bunch of backups.”
And it proved too much for the Knights to overcome.
Curtis scored a touchdown on a 4-yard run by Maurice Hinton just before halftime and then opened the second half with a 75-yard kickoff return by Jadon Goodman for another score to break open a tight game as Kennedy saw its season end in a 28-6 loss to Curtis.
“We just couldn’t get anything going on offense,” Vega said. “Then we gave up the kickoff return at the start of the third quarter. And then they punched one more in, in the fourth quarter, and that was it.”
Without both Sylla and Boadi, the Knights sputtered on offense, but after Curtis took a 7-0 lead on a 20-yard scoring run by Hinton, Kennedy got a huge defensive play from Thierno Bah, who picked off a Curtis pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. When the two-point conversion failed, the Knights were within 7-6 midway through the second quarter.
But all the good vibes and momentum the Knights were feeling after Bah’s heroics quickly faded after the Warriors’ back-to-back scores bookended halftime.
“That was definitely the difference,” Kennedy quarterback Chaze Anthony Milton said. “That was the turning point and we just couldn’t recover after that. It was just tough to swallow.”
It was a valiant effort by his undermanned team, but Vega did lament the two big plays that ultimately cost Kennedy.
“That’s high school football,” the coach said. “Very few teams can sustain drives. Most teams rely on the big play, especially a team like Curtis who has explosive athletes. But I think the effort was there from our guys for all four quarters. We just didn’t have enough.”
What the Knights do have is a bright future. In just his second season at the helm, Vega has transformed Kennedy from an also-ran to an almost-title contender in the PSAL.
“It’s a step in the right direction for sure,” Vega said. “We just have to keep improving every year. Now we have to take the next step to be one of those top-tier teams in the PSAL.”
And that next step could arrive as early as next season.
“We need another year in the weight room,” Vega said. “This is really the first year that we had a full off-season with our staff. Those (elite) teams are years in the making of having worked in the weight rooms and things like that. So we just have to build off of what we did this year and have another good offseason as far as the weight room so we can be able to physically hold up against those teams.”
Despite the loss, Milton said he was proud to be one of the key contributors in turning around the Kennedy program.
“It’s a beautiful thing when you are a part of it and you see what it was and what it is now,”” the quarterback said. “It was great to be a part of. It was pretty awesome.”
But Kennedy’s rosy future will come without Milton as the senior has played his final game at Kennedy.
“I walked off the field with some thoughts like, ‘Man, I wish I could have done more,’” Milton said. “But I held my head high because I knew I did my job. It’s never easy to walk away from something that you love. No more practices, no more film (sessions), no more lunches together.
“It’s really hard to do.”