Almost every day, as the BX 1 made its way down the Grand Concourse, Jamel Lane heard the insults and the predictions from his adversaries. Clinton was going to win when the two teams met Oct. 18. It wouldn’t even be close. This was the year the Governors would own the Bronx.
Kennedy’s junior running back simply smiled.
“We kept our mouths shut,” he said.
The Knights saved their chatter for the game, winning the mythical Bronx championship behind a dominant run game that ate up the clock and a stifling defense that limited Clinton’s dynamic triple option offense. On Homecoming, the Knights made Clinton its home, knocking off the Governors, 14-8, on Saturday afternoon in front of close to 1,000 spectators, split almost evenly between the two bitter rivals.
“We proved it on the field; we don’t talk, we just do,” JFK coach Alex Vega said. “We got a lot of tradition at our school. It’s not gonna stop, not as long as we’re gonna be around.”
Not a team known for its animated celebrations, Kennedy danced at midfield at the final horn, then joyfully sang its fight song along with the school’s cheerleaders and many fans by the far sideline.
“We came out here and showed everybody,” quarterback Ozzie Garcia said, smiling,” that we’re the best team in the Bronx.”
“This was a test of our manhood,” Lane added. “We weren’t playing for our coaches; we weren’t playing for our school; we were playing for each other.”
The Knights, winners of five straight, deserved every bit of that euphoric feeling. They held Clinton’s dynamic quarterback Peter Goodman to just 56 total yards of offense, picking him off twice and forcing a fumble. Fullback Onell Dishmey managed just 30 yards on the ground.
“We’ve been playing good defense all year, it’s no secret,” Vega said. “We do well against the triple-option attack.”
The Knights (6-1), meanwhile, took advantage of their opportunities, turning their first possession into eight points while eating up the first quarter. “That changed the entire second quarter,” Clinton coach Howard Langley said. “It took us out of our offense a little bit.”
The Governors, nevertheless, got even soon thereafter, when outside linebacker Anthony Hall recovered Jose Jimenez’s fumble in the end zone, set up when Sidiq Soulemana downed Eric Otibu’s 50-yard punt at the Knights’ 2-yard line. Running back David Ruiz ran for the two-point conversion.
Clinton just couldn’t build upon its own success. After forcing a JFK punt, the Governors drove down to the Knights’ 41. On first down, Goodman executed a picture-perfect play fake – several JFK defenders got caught in between – and lofted his finest pass of the afternoon down field for Akeem Christian. Except it bounced off his hands, landing incomplete. Two plays later, Goodman’s pitch to Ruiz caromed off the senior’s shoulder pads, recovered by Rahiem Halstead.
“That,” Langley said, “was the play of the game.”
After Goodman’s first interception to start the second half short-circuited a promising drive, JFK went 76 yards in 11 plays, capped by Lane’s second score of the game, an eight-yard burst up the middle. The drive took 6:10 off the clock; JFK also ate up the final 7:40, running the ball down Clinton’s throat, behind mammoth left tackle Kevin Douglas, while converting two integral third downs and once on 4th and 4 at the Clinton 31, when Chris Quinnonez got the corner for five yards.
“We pounded them,” Vega said. “We were running the ball down their throat the whole game. We’re the best team in the Bronx once again, don’t ever forget that.”
There was no disputing that hard, cold fact for Clinton, even if the final differential was a single touchdown. The Governors (5-2) haven’t won this game since 2001. But their season, Langley told his players, is far from over.
This was a loss, he added, that will only help his young team once the postseason begins – playing in front of a large crowd against a top opponent in high-pressure situations. He also isn’t about to cede his program as the inferior outfit. In fact, he was in a predicting mood.
“When we beat Kennedy, their program is finished because they put everything in to beating us,” he said. “It’s the bully syndrome. Like Mike Tyson, when you knock him down you know it’s over. I just told (my players) we’re gonna see them in the playoffs and we’re gonna beat them.”
“All I got to say,” Vega countered, “is the Bronx belongs to us. The better team won.”