PATERSON, NJ — The Columbia High School varsity football Cougars routed the John F. Kennedy High School Knights 28-0 in their first contest of the 2020 season.
Playing an away game in front of a limited crowd due to COVID-19 restrictions, and under bright blue skies and comfortable autumn weather, the Cougars featured a balanced offense and a stiff defense to ward off a strong effort by the home team.
Kennedy’s effort was hampered when midway through the first half starting offensive guard and defensive end Reylin Dicent went down with a knee injury. The 5’10”, 229 pound, junior also takes care of punting duties. Senior linebacker/running back Justin Ortiz stepped in for his teammate for the rest of the game and performed credibly in the kicking department.
A strategy employed throughout the contest for Columbia also involved special teams. Each and every kickoff by the Cougars was a line-drive squibber. The plan proved successful as the ball was kept out of the hands of the speedy Kennedy return men.
Ironically, Columbia’s opening kickoff bulleted straight into the hands of Ortiz who was on the front line of JFK’s return team. The hulking lineman’s perfect catch gave the Knights excellent field position to open the contest.
Under center, Kennedy’s senior junior quarterback Jaiden Santisteban handed off to senior running back Kyle Readus for a short gain. The exchange was one of many between the two for the evening as Readus turned in an exemplary performance against the tough Columbia defense. Another Readus carry came close to a first down but with 4th and four at the Cougars’ 48 yard-line, the Knights opted to punt.
Ortiz’s kick bounced to the Columbia 15 to set up the Cougars’ initial offensive possession. Nick Aaron lined up in the shotgun where he would remain for virtually the entire contest. The only time the senior signal caller took a snap from under center resulted in a fumble. Following the running of senior Mike Berry and junior Steve Henry, the Cougars were able to advance. However, the drive stalled forcing a punt.
The subsequent play proved to be somewhat unusual. The Columbia kick was not a line drive nor a high-flyer, but somewhere in between. At the snap, the Cougars’ cornerback, Kai Arrington, sped downfield and actually caught the ball on the run. The senior then continued to proceed downfield as if catching a pass and running for a touchdown. However, the officials quickly blew their whistles and the ball was returned to the point of the reception.
Tricky cadences called by Santisteban caused the Cougars’ to jump offside on two consecutive plays. Led by the stellar effort of senior defensive end Anthony Fuschetto, Columbia was able to frustrate the Kennedy running game. However, the Knights were still able to advance to the Columbia 38 but Readus was tackled behind the line for a big loss which, combined with a false start, forced a punting situation.
On first down from his own 40, Aaron lofted a long bomb down field. However, the pass turned into a wounded duck which Paterson’s Readus, like a baseball center fielder, patiently waited upon for an interception.
On the Knights’ ensuing possession, Ortiz scraped and scrapped for three tough yards while virtually carrying the entire Columbia team with him. Readus then bounced off right tackle Justin Matos for eight more chunks of yardage. Following an illegal procedure flag on the Knights, Readus was stopped at the line of scrimmage by Columbia senior defensive back Tristan Reynolds for no gain, forcing a punting situation.
Columbia’s senior running back Joseph Holdbrook sprinted for a first down just before the end of the first quarter with the score knotted at 0-0.
A successful pass to the right sideline garnered eight more yards after Holdbrook was tackled on another run by JFK senior linebacker Stanley Villalona. After Ortiz confused a Cougars’ pass attempt, Aaron fired to senior flanker Michael Caines who was speeding down the sideline but the pass was overthrown.
Aaron then rolled left and found Arrington in the left flat for ten more yards. After a delay of game penalty against the Cougars was rescinded by officials, Holdbrook steamed up the middle for eight more chunks of real estate. Inside the Knights’ 15 yard line, on a quarterback keeper, Aaron bolted right, followed Holdbrook’s block, and carried to the Knights’ two-yard line. The next handoff went to senior running back Chance Frost who hit pay dirt.
The first touchdown of the contest was followed by a successful extra point by Columbia’s Andrew Roe. The senior kicker was a perfect four-for-four on extra points for the evening. Surprisingly, Roe said he has never kicked a field goal in game competition but that his farthest boot in practice has been 45-yards.
The Columbia defense stiffened on Kennedy’s ensuing offensive possession and forced a punt. However, the kick descended and took a wild bounce causing the ball to carom off a Cougars’ player. The Knights eagerly pounced on the loose pigskin for a fumble recovery.
Readus followed by exploding off left tackle for a 20-yard gain. Following a delay of game penalty, Santisteban, from the shotgun, targeted Readus who was racing downfield but was sandwiched between two defenders. The ball fell incomplete yet Columbia was tagged with pass interference. However, the promising drive sputtered, as the Cougars defense stifled a run and two pass attempts.
With 1:17 left in the half, Columbia was able to muster a 76-yard touchdown drive. Henry and Caines contributed clutch plays with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Aaron to senior wide receiver Jahquil St. Cyr completing the offensive thrust.
The third and fourth frames saw more of the same with Kennedy’s offense able to bend, but not break, the Columbia defense.
A spectacular play for the Knights came when a long snap for a punt sailed high. Ortiz was not only able to catch the ball and avoid a furious rush but also scampered upfield for a first down.
In the second half, Henry added a touchdown run for the Cougars, as did Holbrook, to register the final score: Columbia 28-Kennedy-0.
TAPinto SOMA is a free online newspaper serving the Townships of Maplewood and South Orange Village with no paywall. TAPinto SOMA is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.