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Eagles clinch last-minute victory in season opener

on September 4, 2010

With fans screaming and forty seconds to go, the John F. Kennedy Eagles came back from behind Friday night to seal a victory over the El Cerrito Gauchos in their first contest of the season.

As the last, long rays of sunlight fell along the goaline at De Anza Senior High School, the Eagles took the field. Hundreds of supporters turned out, many wearing Eagle red or Gaucho green. Fans on each side traded taunts as they filed into the sports complex, and police escorted several people from the event before the game got underway.

To one side, the drums of the El Cerrito marching band thundered in a furious up-tempo, challenged on the opposite sideline by the shouts and claps of the Kennedy High cheerleaders.

With a kickoff from senior fullback Isaiah McClain, Kennedy came out strong, putting immediate pressure on the Gauchos.  For much of the first quarter, the Eagles dominated the play, looking alive and confident, and kept up their ferocity well into the second quarter.

Pacing up and down the Kennedy fan section was Principal Roxanne Brown-Garcia, clad in an Eagles jersey which read #1 across her back.  From every side, Brown-Garcia was barraged with greetings from students and faculty, keeping her on the go almost as much as the players.

With 1:26 left in the first half, McClain scored the first touchdown of the night, vaulting Kennedy into the lead.  The Eagles ran the ball in for the additional points, and though the two-point play was initially allowed, the referees called it before the half ended, making the score 6 – 0.

The game is “more than just a place on a Friday,” said Linda Jackson, an executive director with the West Contra Costa Unified School District.  Jackson said people here have a lot of pride in their school.

The Kennedy offensive line remained strong into the next half, and slowly El Cerrito fans began to trickle out of the stands.  With a minute to go in the third quarter, McClain again blazed into the end zone to score the second touchdown of the night: Kennedy lead the Gauchos 14-0.

But the Eagles would soon learn the hard way that, as Head Coach Clyde Byrd pointed out from the sidelines, it only takes one play – one slip – to turn a moment of glory to one of bitter defeat

With mere seconds left in the third quarter, El Cerrito blew past the Kennedy defense as quarterback Byron Thomas hurled an impossible 63-yard pass directly into the arms of #1 Marvis Fetterson, whose stunning touchdown completely transformed the shape of the game.

Momentum shaken, the Eagles fumbled yet again when the Gauchos earned another touchdown midway through the final quarter.  The Gauchos bested Kennedy’s defense as they rushed in for extra points, bringing  El Cerrito ahead 15 -14.

Kennedy supporters sighed out loud and yelled “I can’t believe it,” visibly crushed by how the game had turned.  Yet they refused to be silenced and continued to rally the Eagles on, even as the clock ticked down the fourth quarter.

With less than ten minutes to go, the Eagles took possession and managed to  gain precious yardage with each play.  Feet stomping, hands clapping, the Kennedy supporters hollered their wild and raucous encouragement onto the field. Could they do it?  The question was plain on each face in the crowd: Could they really make it?

Six minutes to go in the quarter.

Five minutes to go.

Four minutes.

Bolting from the ensuing chaos of a fake punt, the Eagles tore down the field, urged on by screams from the sidelines as Isaiah McClain scored his third and final touchdown of the night with 39.5 seconds left on the clock.

The Kennedy stands erupted in an unrestrained joy as fans screamed and hugged in celebration . The jubilant shouts continued while the remaining seconds trickled down to zero.  Final score: 20-15, Eagles.

The two teams lined up to shake hands at the close of the hard-earned contest.

Principal Brown-Garcia ran out onto the field, vanishing into a wall of red as the players huddled around her, raising their helmets to the sky.

The team took a victory lap.

This is what we are about,” Brown-Garcia said, slapping fist to palm.  “This is going to set the tone for the entire athletic season.  This is how we do it.”

In the post-game interview, Head Coach Byrd was hoarse as he spoke about the heart his players exhibited on the field. “

We wanted this,” he said, “we couldn’t give it up like that.”  Byrd also acknowledged some of the mistakes in fundamentals that had gotten them into the predicament in the first place.  A lot of hard work remains ahead, he said.  “This was a big test.”

For the fans, Coach Byrd has three words: “Kennedy is back.”


  1. brooks on September 7, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Kennedy has a good man there coaching and he will bring a lot of credibility to the school and make the players accountable for their actions. He will bring that family feel that each program should have. Great win but i know big Byrd has a few more wins on his schedule. Best of luck. Coach Brooks

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