Most of the buzz about Bishop Kearney football has been over its explosive offense, which averages 41 points a game. But on Friday night the Kings’ defense came up with a few big plays, including five takeaways, to help secure a 38-23 victory over visiting Avon.
The biggest — and longest — was a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by Ardell Brown in the final seconds of the first half. It gave the Kings, who’ll take a 6-1 record into next week’s Section V football playoff opener, a 24-16 lead and loads of momentum into halftime.
“Our defense has been kind of spotty this year, to say the least, and we’ve been working on it a lot,” said Kearney coach Eddie Long, whose club had given up 28.3 points per game headed into Friday. “But that was a huge, huge, huge play going into the half. Our guys bend, but they didn’t break.”
Freshman defensive back Dahmir Pross also picked off a pass with four minutes left to play near the goal line all but ending Avon’s hopes for a comeback, and junior Jalen Long ended the game by intercepting a pass. The Braves (4-3), Class DD Tournament champions three times in the past five years, needed to win to secure a playoff berth.
Another big turnover came in the third quarter. Avon had driven to the Kearney 5, but a bad exchange on a handoff by quarterback Joey Sotak led to a fumble recovery by Kings linebacker, Jarrid Harris. He’d committed a roughing-the-passer penalty a few plays earlier to negate a Kearney interception.
“You drive down the field, starting to get the momentum and in those kind of games you can’t have turnovers,” Avon coach Andy Englert said.
On Sotak’s interception before halftime, Avon was facing 4th-and-6 from inside the 10. Knowing it’d be a shootout with the Kings, the Braves went for the TD but Brown made the interception. “We thought they’d bite a little more than they did and they sat,” Englert said of the coverage.
Once he saw the open field in front of him, Brown said he knew he had to score “because if I got caught everybody would be playing around and clowning me,” he said with a smile. Brown also caught a 20-yard TD pass for an 8-0 lead in the first quarter.
Just like every secondary that’s faced Kearney, QB Tyler Kirton was tough to stop. Heovercame a pair of interceptions to throw for three scores and break the Section V single-season record. His 32 TDs are one better than Shawn Mizro had for Newark in 2002. The 5-foot-10 senior finished 18-for-29 for 272 yards, giving him 2,078 yards this fall.
Senior wide receiver JoJo Gause caught 10 passes for 161 yards and two TDs. Tre Johnson had 14 carries for 92 yards and a 13-yard TD.
“I can pick my poison,” Kirton said of his athletic receivers. “If (cornerbacks) play off, check down, check down. If they play close, I know I have speed in the slots and they can go by anybody.”
Avon answered early with John Ambroselli’s 5-yard run to tie it at 8. Kirton hooked up with Gause for a 32-yard TD pass to make it 16-8, but Avon came right back again. Sotak threw a ball over the middle into traffic, but junior Brandon Mynter came down with it and raced 70 yards for the tying score.
The Kings went up 30-16 on Johnson’s 13-yard TD run. The play that kept the drive alive was a 40-yard gain by punter Branden Kellam, who scampered up the right sideline after a high, wobbly snap. Avon wasn’t done, though. Welch rambled 62 yards with a screen pass to slice the deficit to 30-23 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Our offense, if we can keep moving, and the defense can play like we’ve been playing, we feel like we can make a big run,” Kirton said of sectionals.