JFK hadn’t beaten crosstown rival Cleveland Hill in six years. It hadn’t won a division championship of its own in 37 years. With all that on the line, the Bears coaches put the game in the hands of senior quarterback Nick Anderson.
Anderson rewarded his coaches, his teammates and his school by running for a two-point conversion with 47.6 seconds left to give JFK a thrilling, come-from-behind, 29-28 victory before an ecstatic home crowd of about 800.
The win gave JFK (6-1, 4-1) the Class C South championship for its first outright division title since 1975. The Bears had shared a division championship in the October Storm-shortened season of 2006, which was also the last year they had beaten their more successful neighbors from Cleveland Hill. The Golden Eagles have made four trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium since 2000, winning two sectional titles.
About 10 minutes after what would prove to be the game-winning play, on the opposite side of the field, JFK co-coaches Mark Ostempowski and Jeff Sabatino were greeted by a large group of alumni, many wearing black-and-gold sweatshirts and delivering big hugs to their former coaches.
“We just came together when things were down,” said Ostempowski, whose team trailed, 28-14, entering the fourth quarter. “It didn’t look like there was any hope there, you could see some of our kids, just their body language – and they just came together. That’s what this team has been doing constantly all year long. They came together. ... They’re just tough little football players.”
As the game headed into the final minute, JFK faced a fourth-and-3 at the Cleveland Hill 18. Anderson scrambled to his right and threw a touchdown pass to senior Joey Burkowski, who leaped to pluck the ball out of the air to make it 28-27.
“I had to go get it,” said Burkowski. “That’s my job. Against this team out there, I’ve got to do that.”
Then came the decision. Earlier in the quarter, Ostempowski had decided to go for two.
“I knew I wanted the ball in Nick Anderson’s hands,” he said. “I said, it’s going to be your call.”
Anderson ran to the left, juked a defender and then ran untouched on an angle past the left pylon.
“My coach told me, it’s in my hands,” said Anderson. “I saw [the defender] coming straight at me. I just got around him like I had been doing the whole game and they had no one in the corner.”
Anderson ran 14 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns while he completed 11-of-20 passes for 121 yards and a score. He led the way as the Bears came back in the fourth, scoring on an 8-yard run in which he dove over the right pylon to cut the lead to 28-21.
JFK recovered a fumble at midfield with 10:29 left but its drive ended with an interception on fourth-and-long. JFK then forced a Cleveland Hill punt and took over at its own 41 with 3:09 left .
The game was 6-6 at half before it quickly became 14-14 on two straight big plays in the first 1:30 of the second (an 83-yard pass play from senior Jacob Radlich to senior Jonathan Thomas for Cleve Hill followed by JFK senior Zack Walkowski’s 75-yard kickoff return). Cleve Hill made it a 22-point third quarter after a 24-yard pass from Radlich to senior Andre Krajewski and a 2-yard fumble return by senior Sharieff Fareed-Muhammad.
With the loss, Cleveland Hill (5-2, 3-2) fell to the fourth place and took the final playoff spot in C North.