Kennett’s magical season comes to an end in Cheltenham
● By Steven Hoffman
The Kennett football team’s magical season—built not on magic, of course, but on hard work and hustle, talent and teamwork, and lots of good coaching—came to an end last Friday evening as the Blue Demons were upended by the top-seeded Cheltenham Panthers, 42-20 in the District 1 Class 5A semifinals.
Cheltenham’s high-octane offense, which came into this game averaging 35 points a game, proved to be very difficult to stop as senior quarterback Adonis Hunter utilized the team’s diverse group of playmakers, including wide receiver Nate Edwards, and running backs Jamir Barnes, Sam Sykes, and Sidiqq Williams to jump out to a 20-0 lead.
On the first series of the game, Cheltenham was poised to go three-and-out as the punting unit went on to the field after two incompletions and a two-yard gain on a run by Williams. Instead of punting away the ball, the Panthers attempted a trick play as Edwards took the ball and raced 58 yards for a score, making it 6-0 when the game was barely a minute old.
Cheltenham scored on its second possession, too, driving 70 yards on nine plays. On a crucial fourth-and-two play, Hunter connected with wide receiver Lateef “T.J.” Harris for a seven-yard gain. Three plays later, Hunter plunged into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run. It was 13-0 with 5:35 left to play in the first quarter.
Good teams must play well when they face adversity. Kennett, which entered the game with 11 victories and only one loss, hasn’t faced a lot of adversity this season, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t overcome obstacles when pushed. Trailing 13-0 and starting deep in their own territory, the Blue Demons steadied the ship by embarking on a long drive. Richie Hughson picked up ten yards on a carry to pick up Kennett’s first first down of the game. Quarterback Sam Forte made a nice pass to Garrett Cox in the middle of the field to move the chains, and he scrambled for a nice gain on another play. The drive ended with a fumble, but the Blue Demons were starting to find their footing.
Cheltenham capitalized on a Kennett turnover early in the second quarter to make it 20-0. Sykes came up with an interception and a personal foul call on the Blue Demons allowed the Panthers to start the drive at the 28 of Kennett. Williams gained 22 yards on a tough run, and then Hunter scored his second touchdown of the game to make it 20-0.
How did Kennett respond? There was Forte, valiantly stretching out to pick up an extra six inches on a carry to move the chains. There was Luke Good slipping tacklers to gain 13 yards on a carry. There was Cox breaking tackles to pick up a first down. The Blue Demons’ drive moved 63 yards on 13 plays, culminating with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Sam Forte to Luke Forte. It was 20-7 with 2:23 left to play in the second quarter.
Hunter connected with Edwards on two straight pass completions, the first gaining 23 yards. Edwards made a leaping grab on the next pass, moving the ball 27 yards. Five plays later, facing a fourth-and-goal from the two, Cheltenham called a timeout with 2.3 seconds in the half. The safe call, perhaps, would have been to kick a field goal. Instead, the Panthers decided to hand the ball off to Sykes, who fought his way into the end zone for a touchdown. It was 27-7 going into the half.
Kennett featured Cox on its first drive of the second half. And why not? The best running back in the program’s history has been as dependable as they come. He carried the ball five times on the drive as Kennett drove 74 yards for a touchdown. Cox completed the drive with an 18-yard gain, cutting the lead to 27-13. On the day, Cox ran for 161 yards, putting an exclamation point to his stellar career at Kennett.
Cheltenham’s defense produced another turnover late in the third quarter when Amani Ezell came up with an interception, setting the offense up near midfield. On second down, Barnes bolted 26 yards to move the ball deep into Kennett territory. Three plays later, Hunter scored on a 16-yard carry. It was 34-13.
Kennett cut the lead to 34-20 with just over five minutes to play in the game when the Fortes connected again—this time for a five-yard touchdown play.
The ensuing onside kick did not go the required ten yards and Cheltenham took over with the victory in their grasp. They ran the clock all the way down to 2:57 before punting the ball away. The Panthers would score one more time when Edwards intercepted a pass and returned the ball for a 40-yard touchdown late in the game. The win improved Cheltenham’s record to 12-1, and the Panthers now move on to face Academy Park in the District 1 Class 5A championship game on Friday, Nov. 22.