Kevin Gorman: Jeannette's Kennedy adds title to winning legacy
Just as Jeannette was drawing up a play for him at halftime, Robert Kennedy declared that he should serve as a decoy.
Kennedy has been a one-man show for the Jayhawks, whether it's on offense or defense, whether it's running, passing or catching the ball.
Yet, with a WPIAL title at stake, Kennedy called an audible in the locker room. He offered to draw the defense away by going in motion.
“Whenever I'm a decoy and you see their best players coming to me,” Kennedy reasoned, “you know their weakest players are on the other side.”
When Jeannette needed him most, Kennedy came through to lead the Jayhawks past Imani Christian Academy, 35-34, on Saturday for the WPIAL Class A title at Robert Morris' Joe Walton Stadium.
“We used him as a decoy,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said of the 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior with FBS ability but only five FCS offers, “but when push came to shove, they knew he'd have the ball and still couldn't stop him.”
There was no stopping Kennedy, no matter where he played. At quarterback, he rushed for 134 yards, including scoring runs of 4 and 10 yards, and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Barnes. At safety, he had two fourth-quarter interceptions: One to set up Jeannette's go-ahead score and another to stop Imani's 2-point conversion attempt.
“I knew the kid was a playmaker, and when the game was on the line he'd be trying to make the play,” Imani coach Ronnell Heard said. “That's what you expect from a top-tier athlete.”
But Kennedy didn't do it alone. Jeannette junior quarterback Seth Howard threw touchdown passes of 27 yards to Tre Cunningham and 51 yards to Isaiah Winters. Defensive ends Ian Smith and Anthony Johnson each had 8 1⁄2 tackles, and Jalen Jones had two sacks and an interception.
As for the play designed at halftime, Kennedy was right. On a third-and-14 at the Imani 32, Kennedy motioned right and the defense followed him, allowing Howard to pass to Imani Sanders in the left flat for a 26-yard gain — only to have a holding penalty nullify the play.
“Me being a leader of this team, I push everyone to play their best,” Kennedy said. “I understand how much I can do by myself and how much we can do together. We can do way more together than I can by myself.”
Kennedy takes his leadership role almost as seriously as he does his legacy.
He is the latest in a succession of star dual-threat quarterbacks at Jeannette, following Terrelle Pryor, Demetrious Cox, Julian Batts and GioVonne Sanders at quarterback over the past decade. But the Jayhawks had lost in their past three finals appearances, and Kennedy wanted to change that trend.
Kennedy is so unselfish that he asked Hall to insert Howard, a star of the WPIAL champion baseball team who didn't come out for football until Week 3, at quarterback because it made the Jayhawks more dangerous.
When Howard hurt his hand in the second half, Jeannette turned to Kennedy.
“We knew when the game was on the line, the ball had to be in his hands,” offensive coordinator Ryan Reitz said. “We'd look foolish if we didn't ride the hot hand.”
Reitz raved about Kennedy's incredible will to win, a trait of the town. Not only was this Jeannette's ninth WPIAL football title — which ranks behind only Aliquippa (16), Clairton (13) and New Castle (11) — but it was the 734th victory in school history. That ties the Jayhawks with New Castle for most wins in WPIAL history.
That isn't lost on Kennedy. He lives for making big plays in big games, so it was no surprise he made the biggest plays in Jeannette's biggest game of the season.
“It's a childhood dream,” Kennedy said. “Being a Jayhawk since midgets and watching Terrelle Pryor — the best ever in a Jayhawk uniform — it feels great.
“Some people say I might not understand it, but I know the history. I'm trying to be one of the best to ever do it in a Jayhawk uniform.”
And Kennedy is doing a great job, even if he's not doing it alone.