By Ted Waddell
KINGSTON November 6, 2007 Frank Kean, 33-year veteran coach of Eldred varsity football team, didn’t have to quit.
After Eldred’s 20-16 win over the Chester Hambletonians in the Section IX Class D championship game on Friday afternoon at Dietz Stadium in Kingston, Kean let the cat out of the bag. Going into the game, he told his team that he was going to toss in the coach’s towel if they lost.
The Yellowjackets rallied to keep their coach, as they defeated Chester, a team they lost to in last year’s Section IX Class D title game. Eldred (7-2) also lost to the Hambletonians, 14-13, four weeks ago in a game that hinged on a controversial call.
“We kicked an extra point they said was no good,” Kean said of that September 29 contest between the Yellowjackets and Hambletonians.
“Last year [at Dietz] we lost on the last play of the game, we threw an interception going for a score,” Kean added. “I think it was time to get a little vindictive.”
In Friday’s game, Chester (3-7) fumbled the ball on the opening kickoff, and Eldred’s Cody Conklin recovered it on the Chester 19-yard line.
The Yellowjackets first drive stalled, and the Hambletonians drove down the field.
Facing a fourth-and-14 with 5:26 remaining in the first quarter, Chester quarterback Joe Salthouse thought he had thrown a touchdown pass, but it was ruled incomplete.
Early in the second quarter, the Yellowjackets had a first down at Chester’s 32-yard line in the wake of senior running back Kevin Prunka pounding out some hard won yardage.
Christian Martinez took it down for a first down at the goal line, and Prunka scored on a 1-yard run.
Bobby Warden’s PAT kick cleared the uprights to put Eldred up 7-0.
Moments later, Martinez scored a 1-yard run. However, Warden’s extra-point kick clipped the inside corner of the left hand upright so the Eldred lead was only 13-0.
With about five minutes remaining until halftime, the Hambletonians faced a fourth- and-one from the Eldred 46-yard line. Salthouse took it down inside the Yellowjackets’ 30 for a first-and-10 situation.
On a fourth-and-two at the Eldred 21-yard line, Chester went for it and made it. But with only 30 seconds left of the half time clock came up short on a fourth-and-goal situation, and Eldred took over on its own 1-yard line.
Martinez escaped Chester’s onrushing defensive line, taking the ball to the 23, but the clock ran out before Eldred could run another play.
During the game, Stan Smith, father of Eldred senior Stan Smith III, was up in the stands with his face painted a glittering green, yelling his head off.
“How bad do you want it, Eldred?,” he asked his fellow Yellowjacket fans.
“Real bad!,” those fans replied.
Asked why he was all decked out in the school colors, Smith replied, “Because Eldred’s going to win Section IX and my son’s playing.”
Out in the parking lot, after the win, Smith, still wearing his “game face,” had a few more words to say about the game.
“Chester’s had our number the last couple of times, the controversy game and [the] Section IX [title game] last year, but the boys had heart and they played through,” Smith commented. “They made us proud and we love ‘em.”
At 8:38 of the third quarter, Salthouse scored on a quarterback keeper, which he followed up with a two-point conversion run to make it a 13-8 ball game.
With 53 seconds left in the third quarter, Chester’s Shawn Thomas picked off a pass by Eldred sophomore quarterback Bryan Henry and raced 55 yards downfield for a TD.
Salthouse took it across the goal line on the subsequent two- points play to put the Hambletonians in the driver’s seat, 16-13.
Early in the fourth quarter, Henry handed off to a succession of teammates Kojo Williams, Prunka and Martinez for good gains. Then at 7:12, junior running back Tom Compasso scored from the 5-yard line,
Warden’s PAT kick was good and the Yellowjackets were up 20-16.
As the Eldred coaching staff sweated bullets, Salthouse completed a pass deep in Yellowjackets’ territory, but then Chester’s drive fizzled after an incomplete pass and Conklin sacked Salthouse.
In the final minutes, a couple of pivotal plays turned the tide.
Williams intercepted a Salthouse pass at 2:17, giving Eldred the ball at its own 14-yard line.
“It was great,” Williams said. “My line put the pressure on and allowed me to get the interception… I’m very proud of them.”
However, the Yellowjackets were forced to punt after three plays.
But Chester’s Darren Mann fumbled that punt, and Nick Simonelli recovered the ball.
“I’m just real glad that Kojo Williams made that hit,” Simonelli said of the play that sealed the victory for the Yellowjackets. “Luckily it popped into me and I held on to it, I was just praying I didn’t let it go, and we’d win the game.”
Henry, Eldred’s 15-year-old sophomore quarterback summed up the game in a few words.
“It was a great game all the way to the finish,” he said. “We started out strong, had a couple of bad plays, but we overcame it. I had an off day, but tried to help out my team as much as I could.”
Prunka led the Yellowjackets’ offense by rushing for 100 yards on 29 carries. Martinez ran 11 times for 65 yards, Henry had two carries for 10 yards and Compasso ran three times for 10 yards.
Compasso also completed a 35-yard halfback option pass.
Simonelli paced the Eldred defense with a team-high nine tackles, which gives him a total of 121 so far for the year, and one fumble recovery. Conklin had seven tackles, one fumble recovery and a quarterback sack.
“They were stopping us on the defense, so we made a couple of adjustments at the half and changed our defensive line a little bit to a four-man line,” Chester Coach Ron Stover said.
“We had good plays at the end, but they had more better plays,” he added. “We had our chances, we just didn’t cash them in.”
With the victory, Kean said he will continue coaching for a while longer.
“It’s close,” he said of retiring from the local gridiron. “I’ll give it a couple more years.”
His take on the game?
“I thought it was tremendous, but I was a little let down because we let them back in the game. But in the third quarter, this time we never said die,” Kean replied. “The last time we played ’em, we did and we gave ’em that lead. But this time we went right down the field for 80 yards and scored.”
Kean was so hoarse from all the yelling that he could hardly talk during the postgame interview.
“I feel great,” he jokingly croaked. “I don’t care if I’m a horse, a cow or a pig we won.”