The John F. Kennedy Eagles played with their heads Saturday night, rounding off the season with a tight 34-28 win against the Piedmont Highlanders Saturday.
Following the disaster of 2009 in which the Eagles forfeited the season because of injuries and lack of players, the 2010 season held promise. With new head coach Clyde Byrd, the players were ready to show what they were made of.
In the Eagles season opener in September, the team secured a last-minute victory against rivals El Cerrito Gauchos. “Kennedy is back,” Coach Byrd announced.
The season had its highs and lows, and the team went into the last match against Piedmont Highlanders with 3 wins and 6 losses. After family photos with the team’s seniors, the game got underway.
Isaiah McClain, 28, scored the first touchdown at 5:17 in the first quarter, starting the game off at 6-0. Just three minutes later, Piedmont player Peter Baldwin, 8, caught a long pass in the end zone and scored, Piedmont leading 7-6.
The sun beat down on the players, and McClain, 28, dragged himself off the field at the beginning of the second quarter. He rested for a few minutes and went back in.
With 5:39 on the clock in the second quarter, Rob Mulder, 2, sprinted into the end zone for the second touchdown of the game. He kneeled with his head down, then sprang up. The score rose, Eagles leading 14-7.
McClain was back at the sidelines, his energy low. Coach Byrd told him, “That’s hella stupid you didn’t get something to eat.” Principal Brown-Garcia brought him a soda, and Byrd poured it into McClain’s mouth, hand resting on his shoulder.
With only 3 minutes left in the second quarter and the ball at the 5-yard line, the pressure was on for the Eagles to get the ball away from their end zone. Kenny Walker, 10, and Charles Crane, 5, gained some yardage and by the end of the first half, the ball was at the 45-yard line.
The teams broke for halftime with the Eagles in the lead 14-7.
The Kennedy players gathered in the corner of the field, kneeling toward the coaches, ready to regroup.
“First things first,” said Coach Byrd. “We’re playing hella soft. I’m just being honest with you. The other team—they’re in the same boat as we are. It’s hot, we weren’t prepared, we’re making mistakes.”
Byrd called out specific players and gave them their assignments for the second half.
“Step it up,” said assistant head coach Daniel Byrd, “it ain’t rocket science.”
Defensive coordinator Allen Talley ended with, “Keep your heads up. We’re up in this game. Let’s keep playing football. Good job, good job.”
Players ran onto the field in the second half. At 9:28 in the third quarter, Rob Mulder, 2, intercepted a pass and tore 80 yards up the field—dodging, twisting, and weaving past Piedmont players—for his second touchdown of the night. The Eagles had a solid lead 20-7.
Just two minutes later, Highlander Max Elliot, 17, scored a touchdown, closing the gap to 20-14. The Eagles locked down their defense, holding the score to the end of the third.
In the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, energy on the field suddenly pumped up. With 4 minutes on the clock, McClain, 28, flew into the end zone for a touchdown. Seconds later, Highlander Peter Baldwin, 8, scored. At 2:30, Highlander Jake Adams, 56, caught the ball in the back corner of the end zone and scored again.
At 2:23, the score was tied 28-28.
“Stay in the game,” shouted Principal Brown-Garcia. The crowed of about 100 booed and stomped.
Rob Mulder, 2, caught the kick-off and ran it 96 yards for the game’s last touchdown, putting Eagles in the lead 34-28. The crowd went wild.
After Mulder ran the kickoff, Piedmont drove up the field and almost ran for a touchdown, but Charles Crane, 5, dove in front of the Piedmont player and tripped him up at the 5-yard line. Piedmont looked like they would score, but Kennedy forced a fumble and McClain recovered it to secure their win.
“Let’s go Eagles, let’s go,” chanted the cheerleaders.
“We don’t quit!” shouted the coaches at the sidelines. “That’s how you play!”
With a minute on the clock, the game was over. Eagles dumped a cooler full of ice down Coach Byrd’s shirt as players waited for the clock to run out. Fans rushed the field to celebrate the perfect end to the team’s first solid season in years with a final record of 4 wins, 6 losses.
“We have built the foundation for the future,” said Coach Byrd. “These guys are the foundation.”
Earlier that day on the JV field, the younger Eagles trampled Piedmont with a final score of 48-7. They ended their season with 7 wins, 3 losses.
For Coach Byrd, the biggest win was each player’s academic achievements.
“Hope isn’t athletics,” said Coach Byrd, “it’s college. People didn’t want to come to our school, and now they’re looking forward to it. It’s truly a blessing.”
The future looks bright for the senior Eagles, most of whom plan to attend college. “These guys are special,” said Coach Byrd. “They all got personality. We’re gonna miss ‘em.”