Kennedy finishes regular season district champions
MT. ANGEL, Ore. — If you watched any of Kennedy's football this season, there was never any doubt who would lay claim to the Special District 2 championship. With a perfect 6-0 record in the conference and just a lone nonconference loss to No. 1-ranked Heppner, the Trojans have established themselves as one of the premier teams in the state at 2A.
The next closest team to the league title was Santiam, with a 5-1 league record. The Wolverines lone loss? You guessed it. Kennedy ran through Santiam 32-6 on Friday, Oct. 1.
The final regular season game of the season for Kennedy came against the visiting Salem Academy Crusaders on Thursday, Oct. 28. It was a scene familiar to the Trojan faithful: the home team handled business with a 40-7 routing to finish the regular season on a five-game win streak.
"It's a great feeling," said Joe Panuke, Kennedy head coach. "Our goal is to go and win a league championship, and whenever you set a goal, no matter what the goal is, and you accomplish it, it's a good feeling. These guys have worked hard since August. They've done the right things, practiced hard, given us their best every week, and that's all you can ask for."
After marching down the field and scoring at the 5:15 mark of the first quarter to go up 6-0, Kennedy wasted no time in getting the ball back. The home team stymied Salem Academy's ensuing drive, forcing the Crusaders to punt the ball away their own 34-yard line. From midfield the Trojans began a drive of their own, going 10 plays and finding the endzone after sophomore running back Elijah Traeger punched the ball in from four yards out. After junior Charlie Beyer sent the PAT through the uprights, Kennedy led 13-0 at 10:01 of the second quarter.
In the ensuing Salem Academy drive, Kennedy's defense once again stepped up, stripping the ball from the Crusader running back and junior Ethan Kleinschmit scraping it up off the field. From the opponent's 25-yard line Kennedy needed just two plays to find the endzone for the third time. Senior quarterback Riley Cantu ran the ball off the right side for the touchdown at 8:57 of the second quarter. Beyer once again nailed the PAT and Kennedy led 20-0.
It took a little bit longer, but Salem Academy's next drive resulted in the same outcome. Kennedy stripped the ball away and put it back in the hands of its offense at the 5:13 mark of the second. From there Kennedy needed just eight plays for Cantu to find junior Luke Beyer over the middle for the six-yard touchdown pass. Kennedy led 26-0 at 1:03 of the second quarter.
"We spend a little bit of time working on strip drills, but we're constantly telling them to take the ball away," Panuke said. "Our goal is to be plus three on turnovers every week. So if we turn the ball over zero times and we can cause three turnovers, we're plus three. When we're plus three, your winning percentage is through the roof. Our guys know that with our offense and how powerful we can be, if our defense is causing three turnovers we have a pretty good shot at winning the game."
Coming out of the half Salem Academy kicked the ball away to Kennedy who went right back to work. The Trojans went on a nine-play, 80-yard drive to score on a Riley Cantu run from seven yards out. Freshman Josiah Martinez took over PAT duties afterward, nailing the extra point to put Kennedy out ahead 33-0 at the 8:10 mark of the third quarter.
Kennedy's final touchdown of the night came on a drive that started at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth. Nine plays after forcing a turnover on downs, Trojans junior Brett Boen ran the ball up the middle from 20 yards out. Martinez once again drilled the PAT and Kennedy led 40-0 at 8:13 of the fourth quarter.
Salem Academy avoided a shutout by scoring with five minutes left in the game on a Landen Iverson run off the right side, and sophomore Ridge Jantzi drilled the PAT. When the horn sounded, Kennedy had the win 40-7.
Kennedy (8-1) now turns its attention to the postseason. The No. 2 ranked team in the state will have its first game Friday, Nov. 5, against an opponent to be determined. For the Trojans, the future isn't guaranteed and Panuke wants his team to remember as they gear up for the first playoffs.
"The message is you're only guaranteed one more week," Panuke said. "Do you love football? All in for one week? It's only one week at a time. We continue to get better at the little things, get off the field on third downs, get the first down when it's third down on offense. Those are big things in playoff football."
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