PATERSON, NJ - In the annual Thanksgiving Day grudge match, Kennedy High scored two touchdowns in the last eight minutes of the game to defeat Eastside High, 20-14, ending the Ghosts' bid for a .500 season.
Senior quarterback Jaiquan McCants threw two touchdown passes and ran 12 yards for the winning score with 2:23 left in the game to lead the Knights to victory. "I did what I know how to do best, play football,'' said an ecstatic McCants after the game. "On a couple of plays, my teammates bailed me out at crunch time.''
One of those teammates was Malachi Brown, a junior receiver who spent most of the season as a reserve but got an opportunity for extensive playing time in the season finale because of injuries. On an under-thrown McCants pass with about four minutes left in the game, Brown came back to the ball and made an acrobatic catch over a defender to give the Knights the ball at the Ghost 12-yard time, setting up the winning touchdown. Brown also had a touchdown catch and rang up more than 100 yards receiving in the game.
"I hardly got in this year, so it was great to have a big game, especially today, on Thanksgiving,'' said Brown, a junior and one of the smallest players on the Kennedy roster at 5-feet, 6-inches and 140 pounds. "I'm really excited.''
"The thing about this game is there always seems to be an unlikely hero,'' said Kennedy athletic director James Fitzgerald.
Knights Head Coach said Brown had showed perseverance in his reserve role. "He played hard in practice all year, he just had seniors starting in front of him,'' Jackson said.
The Ghosts came into the game with a 4-5 record and a two-game winning streak, hungry for a win over arch-rival Kennedy that would give them a .500 season. Kennedy, meanwhile, came into the contest with an eight-game losing streak after winning its season opener. By most measures, Eastside seemed the favorite. But when it comes to the Turkey Bowl, most measures get thrown out the window.
"We played hard, both teams played hard, but we didn't make the most of our opportunities,'' said Eastside Head Coach Jermain Johnson.
The Thanksgiving rivalry had been tied entering this year's game. The win gave Kennedy a 40-39 edge in the series, with seven ties.
The game was an emotional roller coaster for the two teams and their fans. Several hundred people jammed Bauerle Field. They saw Kennedy take an 8-0 first quarter lead when McCants hit Brown with a 35-yard TD pass. McCants then hurdled over the line for the two-point conversion. On the ensuing Eastside possession, Kennedy's Wayne McFarlane recovered a fumble and the Knights drove deep into Eastside territory, before turning the ball over.
Just before half-time, the Ghosts closed the gap to 8-7 on a touchdown pass from Edward Mackenzie to Nayee Ricks Dough, who made a juggling catch. Eastside then took the lead, 14-8, eight minutes into the third quarter when Rashone Clark caught a 25-yard TD-pass from Mackenzie. By then, a cold rain was falling and the defenses took over the game for the next 10 minutes of action.
But two clutch catches by Brown put Kennedy in the red zone with nine minutes left in the game. At that point, the Eastside defense stiffened, forcing the Knights to try a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal from the five yard line. The Ghosts stopped the run, but committed a face mask penalty, giving Kennedy another life. On the next play, Eastside got called for pass interference in the end zone, giving the Knights first and goal. McCants then hit Mikel Dixon with a TD pass. When the Knights missed the extra point, the score was tied, 14-14.
After an Eastside fumble, Kennedy started the winning drive with a little more than five minutes left in the game. Brown then made his acrobatic catch at the 12-yard-line. The Ghosts stuffed two Kennedy running plays after that, but on third down, McCants ran to the left, eluded a couple of would-be tacklers and scored the winning touchdown.