CLIFTON, NJ- In an emotionally charged game postponed by a day due to inappropriate exchanges on social media between members of both teams, Paterson’s John F. Kennedy and Clifton High School battled in a nail biting, down to the wire contest on Saturday in Clifton.
The epic confrontation was marked by a display of true sportsmanship by both squads. Adding to the ambiance of goodwill, each time an on-field injury occurred, fans from both sides responded with warm, supportive applause upon seeing players able to walk back to the sidelines.
Under bright, sunny skies, Clifton received the opening kickoff for the mid morning contest.
Senior Devon Swasey’s 20-yard return reached the Mustang’s 45-yard line. Following a short gain by Clifton’s senior running back, David Martinez, the Mustangs’ senior signal caller, Armani Brinson, found wide receiver Marcus Laureda down the right sideline for big yardage. With a 1st and 10 on Kennedy’s 19-yard line, the handoff again went to Martinez but the run was stopped by the Knights’ junior defensive tackle, Tyrell Briggs. However, two plays later, Clifton opted to counter with junior running back Christian Boneparte, who pounded up the middle for a score. The extra point sailed through the uprights and the Mustangs owned a 7-0 lead.
The ensuing kickoff saw the Knights begin on their own 20-yard line and a quick 30-yard run by senior running back Jayden Cornish with interior linemen, Brian Bynum, Charlie Davila, De’andre Jones, Aaron Belfield, and Jaysen Triunfer helping to clear the path. A few plays later saw Kennedy’s quarterback, Evelon Babbs, loft a floater to fellow senior Wisam Salameh for a completion and gain to the 15 yard line followed by a run by junior running back Andre Gardner into the endzone. The extra point attempt was blocked resulting in the scoreboard reading Clifton 7-Kennedy 6.
On the following Mustangs’ possession, Cornish followed up his kick by tackling Martinez, for scant yardage, after the latter caught a screen pass. Later, on a crucial third down for the Mustangs, Paterson’s Jamier Wright-Collins leaped high in the air to bat down a pass. Forced to punt from deep in their own territory, the exchange provided JFK with excellent field possession on the Clifton 35-yard line, leading to a quick hand off to Wright-Collins who followed right tackle Triunfer, bolted into the secondary, broke two tackles, and cruised in for the score. A failed attempt for two put the score at 12-7 for the Knights.
Clifton’s response to the Kennedy score was quick. Senior Julien Solomon rocketed up the middle for big yardage. Only a shoestring tackle by Kennedy’s Jahmall Readus prevented a touchdown on the play. Martinez followed in what appeared to be a five-yard gain but then, literally, carried a horde of JFK tacklers for another five increments of real estate. With a 1st and ten from Kennedy’s 11-yard line, Brinson, from the shotgun, ran left into heavy traffic. Alertly reversing field, the senior helmsman scooted into the end zone for a score. A fake extra point kick-run right was stymied by Paterson’s senior outside linebacker, Darrien Davis.
With both teams trading scoreless possessions, a Mustang’s touchdown that came as a result of a fake handoff turned into a short pass to Solomon of the home team ended the first half with a 19-12 lead for the Mustangs.
Following a spectacular half-time show by Clifton’s award winning marching band, Kennedy received the kickoff only to quickly have to give the ball back to Clifton. The Mustangs took advantage of the quick turnaround from defense to offense and saw their score increase by seven on a spectacular 47-yard run from Bonaparte and a successful extra point.
With 7:55 left in the third frame and Clifton ahead 26-12, if any fans left, thinking the game was over, they were sorely mistaken. Kennedy took a mere 12 seconds to match the Mustangs previous score. With a 1st and 10 from their own 35-yard line, JFK’s coach Ron Jackson chose to turn to Gardner. The dependable senior running back took the handoff, bolted up the middle, broke an arm tackle attempt, and sprinted 65-yards to pay dirt.
The Mustang’s woes continued on their ensuing offensive series as Wright-Collins stepped in front of an intended Clifton receiver, intercepted the pigskin, and raced up the left sideline for another Kennedy six-pointer.
Taking just three minutes off the game clock the Knights managed to knot the score at 26.
The teams would go on to trade touchdowns, the Mustangs via a run and the Knights set up by a 37-yard bomb to Babbs with only the missed extra point separating the two teams when the final whistle blew with Clifton topping Paterson’s boys 33-32.