PATERSON, NJ - The Eastside High School boys’ varsity football team defeated crosstown rival John F. Kennedy by a score of 28-12 in the latest edition of their traditional Thanksgiving Day battle.
This was the second year in which the game was actually played the day before Thanksgiving in the series that has existed for nearly a century. The contest was marked by fierce play from both sides and by one of the most spectacular plays in the history of the hard-fought rivalry.
With 7:32 left in the first frame, the Ghosts moved to Kennedy’s 20-yard line and running back Albert Canty bounced off right tackle for five yards but an illegal block in the back call nullified the gainer. A textbook, solo tackle by JFK senior defensive end Stanley Vilallona temporarily quelled the rally and a slightly underthrown pass into the endzone by senior quarterback Wymeir Reed slipped through the fingertips of his intended receiver.
The ensuing Eastside punt was shanked, giving Kennedy excellent field position at their opponents 30-yard line. Soon thereafter, senior running back Kyle Readus took a handoff and cruised in for a score and the extra point attempt failed but the Knights still enjoyed an early six-point lead.
The subsequent JFK kickoff went to Eastside return man, senior Jonathan Gonzalez, who ran sideways, nearly the entire width of the field, but gained no yardage. On the first play from scrimmage, junior running back Ahsin Jacobs only mustered one yard but Canty then broke through the Knights’ line, literally ran over a defender, and scooted forward for a 12-yard gain. The senior again got the call but the ball popped out of his hands. The Knights were able to recover but not before suffering a huge loss.
A 15-yard penalty against Kennedy was followed by an end-around carry by wide receiver Elijah Carroll which backfired, resulting in a loss of yardage courtesy of a combined tackle by Vilallona and JFK sophomore defensive back Kehson Sellers. After Canty notched five yards on a run, Kennedy sophomore defensive back Frye Rah’Meir brilliantly batted down a long Reed pass attempt and Sellers, on a fourth down blitz, raced into the Eastside backfield and registered a sack.
Starting offensive position from their own 48, Readus was hurled to the turf by Eastside’s 6’2” 250 pound junior defensive tackle Jahsin Jacobs for scant yardage. The next JFK rushing attempt was stymied when the Kennedy runner was pushed out of bounds by the Ghosts’ tandem of senior defensive back Messiah Muckle and freshman defensive end Nyreek Clyburn.
After the Knights were tagged with a holding penalty, a lengthy conference was held between the referees to correct the game clock and Eastside was flagged for offsides. Kennedy junior quarterback Jaiden Santisteban then lofted a pass over the middle but far from any teammate. Eastside defensive back Cornell Goodwin, like a baseball center fielder, waited for the ball to descend, made the catch, and bolted, right, up the sideline, flattened a defender at the 20-yard line, and raced across the goalline for an apartment touchdown. The spectacular play was called back due to a holding call but the Ghosts retained possession at their own 40.
A promising Eastside drive developed, led by the running of Canty and Jacobs, and a questionable pass interference call on the Knights resulted in the Ghosts knocking on the door at their opponents’ 15-yard line. Canty was sprung for more yardage, via a key block from Carroll, but the gain was called back due to a holding infraction. Reed, from the shotgun and flanked by running back Amir Smith, then fired to Canty who, starting from the slot, crossed from left to right, sliced between two defenders to nab the pigskin while at full throttle, and, for good measure, lowered his shoulder to discard a would-be-tackler to cross the goal line and spell touchdown. The two-point conversion was successful providing the Ghosts with a two-point lead.
Readus was then featured on three consecutive plays as he was forced to backpedal on the ensuing Eastside kickoff but recovered to make a nice return to his own 34-yard line. The senior then contributed a valiant effort on a rushing attempt by simply getting back to the line of scrimmage, due to a horde of orange and blue tacklers. A Sanstisteban to Readus sideline completion was good for six yards but fell just short of moving the chains due to a last moment, out of bounds hit by JFK’s Goodwin, resulting in a Kennedy punt.
After the kick rolled to the Eastside 25-yard line, Canty moved the chains with several blockbusting runs, being tackled by Kennedy’s Ladsen La’Dorien, in the secondary, on the second effort. Readus was then stonewalled on a keeper by Jacobs (Jahsin) and with 1:49 left in the half, the Ghosts were faced with a fourth down, near midfield. Ghosts’ Head Coach James Magazine opted for a fake punt gamble but the strategy boomeranged as the Knights were not fooled.
Starting from the Eastside 44, with the clock ticking, the Knights desperately tried to get on the board but their initial effort was squashed by another crunching, body-slam tackle by J. Jacobos. Santisteban followed with a keeper and slipped through the line for five-yards. Readus, not to be denied, took the handoff, zipped into the Kennedy secondary, switched gears and pivoted, right, through a gauntlet of defenders, and jetted upfield for a 37-yard scamper that moved the ball all the way to the Ghosts’ 11-yard line.
With 15 seconds left and Kennedy rattling the cage at the Eastside nine, an offsides infraction against the Ghosts moved the ball to within four yards of paydirt. It was then that an unforeseen turn of events which could easily rank as perhaps the most sensational play, and certainly one of the longest, in the history of the 96-year rivalry, occurred.
The Knights opted to throw into the end zone but the pass only wobbled, due to a QB hurry by Eastside defensive tackle Arthur Edmonds, straight into the hands of Smith (who also doubles as linebacker for the Ghosts). From his own one-yard line, the speedy junior bolted left and headed up the sideline. The outcome was soon obvious as Smith continued to cruise upfield, leaving everyone in the dust, including his own blockers. However, the jubilant celebration by Eastside fans was soon muffled as referees convened a lengthy powwow at midfield but, after several minutes, no flag was thrown and the scintillating 99-yard touchdown was finally certified. A pass attempt failed on the 2-point conversion attempt but the Ghosts owned a 14-6 lead as the first half came to a conclusion.
If, a second half could be designated as more competitive than a first half, this game would have certainly qualified.
The Ghosts were able to score two more times in the final quarters and the Knights also added a touchdown.
Eastside received the second half kickoff and started at their own 35 after which a Smith run moved the chains but the Ghosts were flagged for a false start. Reed connected with Jacobs (Ahsin) down the right side, twice, for a pair of first downs and more, in which, on the second reception, the wideout managed to disengage from his defender, cross field to the left, and scoot into the endzone for a score. The successful conversion resulted in the score: Eastside 22-Kennedy 6.
After receiving the kickoff, a Kennedy run garnered five yards behind a pancake block, courtesy of sophomore offensive lineman Jaylen Pou. After a Santisteban handoff to Readus produced ten yards, #51 for Eastside-sophomore defensive lineman Yojansy Taneras-provided a Dick Butkus-like tackle. Canty then nailed a JFK runner behind the line for a loss and Clyburn, from his defensive end position, barreled in, untouched, toward Santisteban who was fortunate to get back to the line of scrimmage from the shotgun position.
After the squads traded penalties, Readus was stopped by Muckle for a short gain but the JFK senior salvaged revenge with a brilliant burst between sophomore center Jefferson Keimaj and junior left guard Reylin Dicent for big yardage. However, a false start committed by the Knights and a sweep attempt, left, was soured by an eight-yard tackle for a loss by Canty.
Following a pass that sailed just beyond the grasp of Tyrese Johnson and a timeout by JFK Head Coach Ron Jackson, Santisteban connected with Readus on the left sideline but the latter was unable to escape a horde of Eastside tacklers, forcing a punt.
The Knights found new life as an apparent kick turned into a fake and the Kennedy surprise run travelled to the Eastside 35 for a JFK first down. A reverse that garnered eight chunks of real estate was followed by both teams being penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct as Readus, who was standing out of bounds, was the recipient of a late hit long after the play had been whistled dead. With 56 seconds remaining in the third quarter and Kennedy deep in Eastside territory, threatening to score, Coach Magazine called a timeout but several runs brought the Knights closer to pay dirt as the third quarter concluded.
With a first and goal at the Eastside four-yard line and senior Joey Henriquez bolstering the JFK offensive line, a blistering run by Arnum Hunte, behind the knock-down block of junior tackle Alan Gutierrez, spelled touchdown. The Knights edged within ten points of their rivals despite the two-point conversion falling short.
On Eastside’s ensuing offensive possession, a 15-yard carry by Carroll was followed by a first down QB keeper by Reed who narrowly managed to elude a blitz by senior Knights’ linebacker Justin Ortiz. Canty then carried twice for good yardage and Reed fired to A. Jacobs on a crossing pattern for the Ghosts’ final touchdown. Reed, on a keeper, scurried into the endzone on the conversion attempt but the score was nullified due to a penalty. On the retry, junior receiver Jair Stewart appeared to catch Reed’s pass in the endzone but the reception was ruled incomplete.
Defense dominated the remainder of the contest including a spectacular dogfight between Muckle and JFK Dustin Matos for a pass downfield while sophomore linebacker Jose Roman provided spark for the Knights. Jacobs (Jahsin) continued to turn in big plays for the Ghosts as Villalona did the same for the Knights. After textbook punt coverage by Matos, Reed took several knees for the Ghosts as time ran out, resulting in the final tally.
Reed passed for a trio of touchdowns and Canty and Smith rumbled for 96 and 63 yards for the Ghosts, respectively, while Readus churned for 97 yards for the red and black.