By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Needless to say, it’s been a turbulent and emotional season for the Kearny High School football team.
The Kardinals had to tackle the controversy of having to forfeit a game earlier in the season to St. Peter’s Prep, while enduring five straight losses as well on the field. It’s not easy being a winless football team in October.
But all of that ended last Friday night, when the Kardinals came back to defeat Memorial, 42- 41, in overtime.
The Kardinals got the win after the Tigers had scored a touchdown and converted the PAT kick in overtime.
Kearny head coach Pete Llaneza felt good about his team’s chances in overtime.
“We were running the ball well and moving it well all night,” Llaneza said. “I didn’t think they could stop us. I figured it was our best shot.”
So after Gabriel Xavier scored the third of his three rushing touchdowns on the night in overtime, Llaneza figured that there was no need to trot out the kicker for another tie and another overtime session.
“I figured, `What the heck?’” Llaneza said. “If we couldn’t get three more yards, then we didn’t deserve to win. We ran the triple option to the right, got some good blocking upfront and hammered it in.”
Xavier’s successful conversion of the PAT run enabled the Kardinals to enjoy the sweet taste of victory.
“The kids were real excited,” Llaneza said. “It was a Homecoming crowd, so we had a lot of people there. A bunch of our former players, guys who had graduated, ran onto the field to celebrate with us. It was a real positive vibe and seeing them come through in the end was really a sense of relief, but we were real excited.”
Llaneza said that the win was vital to the struggling program.
“It’s very important,” Llaneza said. “It makes it easier to get through our next three weeks. To watch them compete for four quarters and come away with a win just reinforces everything they’ve been working for. They’re great kids and they’ve always been working hard, even through the tough times. It might not be like if they were 6-0, but they still show up every day and get a lot done in practice.”
Llaneza knew that Memorial, coached by former Kearny head coach Oscar Guerrero, represented the team’s best chance to get a victory. The Tigers owned a 1-5 record entering the game.
But the Kardinals also had some key players return from injury, so that helped Llaneza’s spirits.
“I felt a lot better after Eric Greenlee was cleared to play Thursday afternoon,” Llaneza said.
The senior quarterback had been out of action due to an illness, with freshman David Nash and Christian Rodriguez filling in.
“Eric has been running the offense for three years now,” Llaneza said. “So we needed him back.”
Greenlee responded in his return with 188 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, Kearny’s first score of the night.
Xavier, the workhorse in the backfield, had 111 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns. Jax Angulo had 71 yards on seven attempts and had a 19-yard run for a score and caught a 27-yard scoring pass from David Nash.
Angulo is another who had been battling injuries.
“He pulled a hamstring in training camp and then tried to come back too fast,” Llaneza said. “He was hobbling around for a while. He came back this week and looked like he did last year. He has tremendous athletic ability.” Angulo also made 10 tackles. Byron Quevedo led the way defensively with 12 tackles, followed by Winder Pasche, who had 11 and T.J. Witt, who had 10.
All in all, it was a good week for the Kardinals, who face Ferris Friday night at home.
“Memorial has some good players, athletic players in their skilled positions,” Llaneza said. “But our kids battled to the end and I’m really happy for them. They competed well, overcame the challenges that they had to face. They’ve definitely had their fair share of adversities and they overcame them.”
Through all the trials and tribulations the Kearny football team has had to face this season, it was good to see the Kardinals emerge with a victory. Nothing can heal a huge wound better than a win, especially when you hadn’t won all season prior to Friday night. Winning heals a lot of ills, that’s for sure