Twenty-eight years of frustration was being let out all around him, Cardinal Hayes players and coaches and fans and alumni dancing and jumping and screaming and posing all at once.
All Kwamayne Davis could do was take two knees and sob.
Eventually, the junior quarterback rose, one foot slowly after another, gazing at the wild scene around him, tears still falling from each eye. He then cried some more before he spotted his father, Henry Russell, in the first row, amid the rabid student section smiling. He sprinted over, like he was running away from a Mount St. Michael linebacker, leaped high over the fence, into his father’s waiting arms.
“I felt,” he would say later, “like I changed the world.”
He had only won a football game, throwing for three touchdowns in Hayes’ 39-34 win over Mount in the 66th annual Turkey Bowl. But it was more than just a football game. Hayes hadn’t won this showdown since 1980, well before Davis and his 45 teammates were even born. Last year, the Cardinals were blown out, 36-0, and Davis, then just a timid sophomore, was booed off the field.
“That was probably the worst Thanksgiving I ever had,” he said. “Today is the best one I ever had.”
He was obviously not alone. Hayes (5-5) had played five days before, losing a game coach C.J. O’Neil said it should’ve won, falling to rival Cardinal Spellman, 8-6, in the CHSFL ‘A’ championship game. The first day of practice, the fifth-year coach said, was rough, but his players got it together the last two and started to believe victory was possible.
“I just told them this isn’t how we’re going out,” he said. “The kids just came out with such spirit and passion.”
Davis didn’t waste any time, hitting junior Gallo Henson on a 60-yard touchdown pass the second play from scrimmage, his first of two scores, the other being a 85-yard kickoff return early in the second half. Davis later found another talented junior wide receiver, Bryant McAdoo, from 30 yards out in the second quarter to push the lead to 25-7.
This being Mount (4-7), the game was far from over. Twice, the Mountaineers got within single digits, scoring twice on blocked punts. After the second one, swatted down by linebacker Shaine Frazier and recovered by defensive back Mzuri King, the home crowd – so quiet much of the way – started buzzing, sensing the momentum turn. There was still 5:45 remaining on the clock and Hayes had possession at its own 40-yard line.
As Davis went back to pass on first down, he saw Mountaineer blitzers breaking through his offensive line. But out of the corner of his eye he also saw McAdoo sprinting downfield with a step on Mount cornerback Danny Padilla. He stood tall in the pocket, giving himself that extra split second to plan and throw before the hit came. Then he released the pass, a perfect spiral. McAdoo ran underneath it and sprinted all the way to pay dirt, the deciding score in the electric victory.
“I knew he was going to catch it – Bryant catches everything,” Davis said.
There were still a few tense moments left. Junior Gary Acquah got Mount to within five with 1:22 remaining on his second rushing score of the game, but junior Chad Frost recovered kicker Randy Samuels’ onsides kick. Soon, O’Neil was drenched with Gatorade and the silver Turkey Bowl trophy was his. As he walked off the field, alumni swarmed him, touching it and kissing it and asking for photos to be taken with it.
“It’s overwhelming,” O’Neil said. “This means so much to the school.”
And to these seniors and so many seniors of seasons past. One of them, offensive tackle Fernando Diaz, had dreamed about what it would be like to beat Mount since losing to the Mountaineers in 2005. He remembered the excitement in the locker room beforehand and the disappointment afterwards. The Pittsburgh-bound senior made a pledge to himself that day to get it done, to beat Mount, one way or another.
“You beat Mount,” he said, echoing the school’s yearly pledge, “the rest don’t count. We did this for everyone who played this game the last 28 years. … We beat that curse.”
Added fellow offensive tackler Erle Ladson, “We exorcised a lot of demons.”
Said O’Neil, “This is a pretty big monkey we’ve been trying to get off our backs for years. And now it’s off.”