HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kevin Ioannidis of Hunterdon Central

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kevin Ioannidis of Hunterdon Central

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Kevin Ioannidis of Hunterdon Central

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Hunterdon Central has experienced something of three seasons in one.

A 5-0 start with little resistance, a four-game losing streak without quarterback Mike Knight (fractured leg), then halfback-linebacker Jason Cabinda (appendectomy), followed by a playoff revival with both back.

Senior middle linebacker Kevin Ioannidis has been virtually through it all.

He’s the Courier News Football Player of the Week for his contributions in Friday night’s 42-7 victory over defending section champ South Brunswick in a Central Group V semifinal.

Seventh-seeded Hunterdon Central (7-4) will play in its 10th sectional final Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. against unbeaten top-seed Manalapan (10-0) at High Point Solutions Stadium at Rutgers. Manalapan, which will be making its third straight final appearance, beat Hunterdon Central 17-7 in the semifinals last year before losing to South Brunswick.

One of the big reasons Manalapan will see Hunterdon Central again is because of the Red Devils’ superb defense led by the omnipresent Ioannidis. Outside of missing the second half with knee injury in Week 5 24-21 win over Hillsborough, Ioannidis has been the force he was expected to be.

Hunterdon Central limited No. 2 seed Old Bridge’s triple option to 114 total yards, including minus-14 yards rushing in a 24-0 first round win. The Red Devils came back to put the clamps on South Brunswick’s version of the option.

South Brunswick had averaged just over 29 points per game and run for more than 2,000 yards behind speedy halfback Dontae Strickland, 5-foot-11, 235-pound fullback Dahrae Ford and quarterback Amir Johnson.

“Old Bridge runs a triple offense and with South Brunswick we knew the quarterback liked to keep it, but they are both run heavy,” Ioannidis said.

Hunterdon Central followed defensive coordinator Tom Bill’s scheme, holding South Brunswick to one first down while building a 28-0 first half lead. With 3:40 left in the half, Strickland took a pitch-out left and ran 53 yards for a score. That play was more than a quarter of the Vikings’ offense for the game.

Hunterdon Central’s front of seniors Caleb Blickenderfer and Albert Polito, juniors Dan Scassera and Shayne Comfort, freshman Andrew Knight (the quarterback’s brother) and junior linebacker Brian Meilinger and Cabinda and Ioannidis were stout. Senior corner Ryan Dunleavy recovered a bad pitch on South Brunswick’s first possession at the Viking 40 to set up Hunterdon Central’s second touchdown. Senior corner Jordan Wideman’s interception in the end zone stopped South Brunswick’s only sustained drive on the opening possession of the second half with Hunterdon Central up 28-7.

Ioannidis, a two-year starter, played special teams as a sophomore when he was also a teammate with older brother Matt, now playing defensive end for Temple. While his brother is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Kevin is 5-11, 180 with an eye toward possibly playing at a Division III college.

“His motor, toughness, how smart he is as a linebacker, and his ability to get from sideline to sideline he is in on every play and has great awareness great athletic ability to make plays in the open field,” Cabinda said.

Cabinda and Knight’s absences weren’t issues Ioannidis said were taken to the field.

“It really gave us a sense of purpose,” said Ioannidis, also a lacrosse player. “Losing both of those guys blew out the heart of the season, but we prevailed through it. It didn’t effect a thing we did (on defense). We held our own.”

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