Bucs Rally, Fin­ish At .500

John­son’s huge game helps Kent Is­land snap five-game los­ing streak, edge long­time ri­val QA’s

The Kent Island Bay Times - - Sports - By AY­MAN ALAM aalam@star­dem.com

Kent Is­land 28 Queen Anne’s 23

STEVENSVILLE — Kent Is­land High’s new guard did much of the heavy lift­ing. The pro­gram’s old guard helped close a dif­fi­cult sea­son on a pos­i­tive note.

The Buc­ca­neers fin­ished the 2018 high school foot­ball cam­paign Fri­day evening by snap­ping a five-game los­ing streak and reach­ing .500, fend­ing off for­ever ri­val Queen Anne’s County, 2823, at a rain-soaked Andy Schipul Sta­dium.

With both teams elim­i­nated from Class 2A East Re­gion play­off con­tention — a rar­ity between the two pre­mier foot­ball schools — the Su­per­in­ten­dent’s Cup and split­ting the 10-game slate were go­ing to be the top prizes there for the tak­ing.

Where pre­vi­ous Week 10 bat­tles between the county foes drew big crowds and big­ger post­sea­son im­pli­ca­tions in ar­guably the big­gest of ri­val­ries on the Eastern Shore, the rel­a­tively mod­est — though spir­ited — gather­ing was nev­er­the­less treated to a se­ries of solid per­for­mances.

“It was a very tough sea­son,” said Kent Is­land sopho­more run­ning back Ke’juan John­son, who fin­ished with 224 yards on 27 car­ries. “Tonight was all about the se­niors, we wanted to work hard and make sure they leave on a good note.”

Added se­nior Bucs wide re­ceiver Tre­quon Thomas, in uni­son with John­son: “This is our cham­pi­onship, this is our Su­per Bowl. Mon­day at prac­tice, first thing we said, ‘Su­per Bowl week, baby’. This is our best week of prac­tice we have had. De­fense was on it, we just clicked.”

Kent Is­land, which reached the play­offs the pre­vi­ous 10 sea­sons, saw the streak snapped with last week’s 41-6 drub­bing at the hands of un­beaten North Caro­line, but was com­pletely healthy for the first time all sea­son against Queen Anne’s.

The win was some­what bit­ter­sweet for head coach Damian Fer­rag­amo, who, while ap­pre­cia­tive of the ef­fort put forth all sea­son by a squad nurs­ing numer­ous in­juries and deal­ing with alarm­ingly low turnout, had to have been won­der­ing ‘What if’, con­sid­er­ing they played no more than three games with a full deck of tal­ent.

“Ab­so­lutely, that’s part of it, ev­ery­body has had peo­ple out, for sure,” Fer­rag­amo said. “Right now, with num­bers low on our ros­ter, it’s out No. 1 goal: to get more kids out and grown our ros­ter so we have more op­tions if peo­ple get banged up.

“This is a con­tact sport, and it’s a sport you re­ally can’t play with a sprained an­kle, not well at least,” Fer­rag­amo added. “That kind of stuff is go­ing to hap­pen, and no way you can make an ex­cuse about that.”

A steady mist turned into mon­soon-type rain­fall mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter, re­lented dur­ing the lengthy half­time break and then the skies opened up again post in­ter­mis­sion, turn­ing the grounds into muddy slop across the mid­dle of the grid­iron.

Up only a point af­ter Queen Anne’s se­nior Has­san Big­gus broke free for a 76-yard touch­down run mid­way through the third quar­ter, Kent Is­land gained some sep­a­ra­tion on the en­su­ing drive, when John­son bounced off left tackle and raced into the end zone for a 49-yard score, ju­nior Joseph Gar­vey split­ting the up­rights on the point-af­ter at­tempt to make it 28-20, Bucs.

A 27-yard fling from Li­ons sopho­more quar­ter­back Sy’Rus McGowan to ju­nior wide­out Gavin Jens was fol­lowed by a 23-yard Big­gus burst on the next drive, set­ting Queen Anne’s up on the Bucs’ 11. Big­gus ap­peared to score around the right side on third down, but the play was called back on hold­ing. McGowan scur­ried on a keeper on the next play, and the Li­ons elected to kick a field goal on fourth down, sopho­more kicker Gar­rhett Richard­son con­vert­ing the 25-yarder to shave the deficit to 28-23 with 11 min­utes left to play, bounc­ing back from a missed PAT af­ter his team’s third TD.

“Kent Is­land is a lit­tle bet­ter than what they showed the last four or five weeks,” said Queen Anne’s head coach Donny Graef, whose team fin­ished with a los­ing sea­son (4-6) for the time since 2003 (2-8), also the pre­vi­ous sea­son nei­ther the Li­ons nor the Bucs made the play­offs. “They were good, they were bet­ter than I thought.

“The crowd got into it through­out the game, it was a good game, and ev­ery­body got their money’s worth.”

Big­gus fin­ished with 200 yards even on only 12 car­ries, adding a spec­tac­u­lar 56-yard, catch-and-run from McGowan in the sec­ond quar­ter in his fi­nal game. Big­gus, who trans­ferred from North Carolina prior to his ju­nior sea­son, was emo­tional af­ter the loss, as was class­mate and cap­tain Ryan Muller, who was bot­tled up by the Bucs on the ground and through the air, to­tal­ing only 8 yards of­fense on four touches.

“We tried our hard­est, we didn’t get the re­sults we wanted, but, at the end of the day, we left it all out there on the field, and that’s all that mat­tered,” Big­gus said. “It was one of days, we just couldn’t get it go­ing like we usu­ally do. I don’t know...”

Added Muller: “In the be­gin­ning, we re­ally strug­gled with our line and get­ting our blocks, but we re­ally pro­gressed and im­proved on that. I love my line, they re­ally stepped it up, I owe ev­ery­thing to them. I love my DBs, I love them to depth, the strong­est spot on this team...”

Kent Is­land lopped off over 7 min­utes of clock on the fol­low­ing pos­ses­sion, John­son rip­ping a 19-yard run on a first-and-19 and me­thod­i­cally chew­ing up the pitch on seven other car­ries on a slow, steady march down­field.

A pass in­ter­fer­ence call on Li­ons sopho­more Tre Farmer-Boyle, when he was draped all over Thomas on a third-and-8 on Queen Anne’s 33, gave Kent Is­land a fresh set of downs. The drive ul­ti­mately ended with Gar­vey hook­ing a 36-yard field goal left. The wob­bly boot landed harm­lessly, leav­ing 3:49 for the Li­ons to try and tie it up.

Queen Anne’s, which scored all three of its touch­downs on huge gains, was un­able to move past mid­field de­spite a 15-yard penalty on the Bucs’ bench when an of­fi­cial made con­tact with an overzeal­ous coach ven­tur­ing out­side the box. An en­croach­ment on fourth-and-6 also al­lowed Queen Anne’s to move the sticks a fi­nal time fol­low­ing a McGowan keeper. But McGowan mis­fired on back-to-back passes, the sec­ond one get­ting nearly picked off.

The third pass, how­ever, was in­ter­cepted by Thomas, who re­turned to the Queen Anne’s 40, writhed in pain from cramps af­ter the drag-down tackle and was swiftly car­ried off the field by two team­mates while the home crowd hooted and hollered for the turnover with only 74 sec­onds re­main­ing on the clock.

“I had to be on the field tonight, I couldn’t miss this game,” said Thomas who has been deal­ing with leg in­juries for much of the sea­son. “The fact that we haven’t won a game in five weeks, fact that it’s Queen Anne’s, fact that it’s the se­niors’ last game, we went into the game think­ing, we’re sav­ages, we’re do­ing ev­ery­thing right.

“We re­ally did jell tonight, ever ything was work­ing,” Thomas added.

Se­nior Chase Cooney laid a vi­cious block and sprung John­son for a 29-yard touch­down to open the scor­ing, the drive set up an Isiah Shock­ley in­ter­cep­tion of McGowan, who fin­ished 4-for-11 pass­ing with 97 yards. The Li­ons wasted no time knot­ting the score, Big­gus mak­ing it 7-7 just 20 game sec­onds later on a 59-yard jaunt past ev­ery­one on the field.

The 7-7 score held into the sec­ond quar­ter, and Queen Anne’s pulled ahead for the only time mid­way through the pe­riod on Big­gus’ 56-yard catch. Kent Is­land made it 14-14 with 8 sec­onds re­main­ing in the first half, fresh­man quar­ter­back Matthew Burn­side’s lone com­ple­tion of the night find­ing Thomas in the right cor­ner of the end zone for a 6-yard score.

John­son added to his mon­ster of­fen­sive out­burst in the third quar­ter, cap­ping a 75-yard Kent Is­land drive by loft­ing a tight spi­ral into the hands of ju­nior tight end Do­minic Mirack, who leapt over two de­fend­ers, se­cured the ball and crashed to the ground for a 20-yard touch­down re­cep­tion, and a 21-14 Buc­ca­neer lead.

“This is def­i­nitely the team we could have been all sea­son,” John­son said. “Ev­ery­body is healed up, we had a great week of prac­tice, a lot of en­ergy, ev­ery­one is fired up; this is ex­actly how we should have been.”

Kent Is­land fin­ished with 322 yards to­tal of­fense on 44 plays from scrim­mage, while the Li­ons gained 329 on 38, though only 111 on 40 snaps when Big­gus’ four ma­jor gains were sub­tracted. Ju­nior back Kenny Guy­ton added 45 yards on five runs for the Bucs, in­clud­ing a 36-yard scam­per on third down that led to Burn­side’s TD toss to Thomas.

Both teams grad­u­ate 15 listed se­niors, and all po­ten­tial re­turn­ers and new­com­ers will have the onus put on them to help re­store the proud pro­grams back to the glory days, which was only a sea­son ago but now seems like a life­time elapsed due to the strug­gles en­dured in 2018.

The lat­est clash, though not nec­es­sar­ily a clas­sic, cer­tainly pro­duced plenty of ex­cit­ing mo­ments.

“It has been a dif­fi­cult sea­son, but I wouldn’t ex­pect any­thing else from these kids,” Graef said. “They bat­tled, but just didn’t get it done tonight.

When asked what he will re­mem­ber most about this team, Graef said, “The ad­ver­sity they had to go through. They were grinders, and they bat­tled.”

Added Fer­rag­amo: “Bot­tom line is, our work ethic, our coach­ing, it was good enough for five weeks, and wasn’t good for the other five weeks. It’s the great thing about sports: you get im­me­di­ate feed­back. Tonight was a big night. It al­ways sucks to tell the se­niors good­bye, and on Au­gust 14 next year, there’s go­ing to be a bunch of more se­niors we know we’re go­ing to be say­ing good­bye to. It’s a part of it, I’m just glad these guys went out on top.”

Fol­low on Twit­ter @Ay­man_S­tarDem. Email at aalam@star­dem.com

PHO­TOS BY AY­MAN ALAM

Mem­bers of the Kent Is­land High foot­ball team pose with the Su­per­in­ten­dent’s Cup af­ter Fri­day’s 28-23 vic­tory over Queen Anne’s County.

Kent Is­land’s Ke’juan John­son tries to break free from Queen Anne’s County’s Ty Farmer-Boyle dur­ing Fri­day’s game.

Queen Anne’s County quar­ter­back Sy’Rus McGowan looks for a run­ning lane Fri­day against Kent Is­land.

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