Augie Tieri was at a loss for words.
As his Kennedy Knights football team gathered in the south end zone following their 2017 home opener against Midwood, the second-year head coach just glared at his team, equal parts astonished at what had just happened, and angry that it did.
“There’s only one way to change the way you’re feeling tonight,” Tieri fumed. “Work harder. If you think you’re working hard, you’re not.”
That’s when Tieri pointed to the scoreboard in the far end zone where the final score was on not-so-proud display: Midwood 42, Kennedy 6.
It was an ugly night all around for the Knights, who trailed 36-0 at the half, and didn’t find the end zone until the final play of the game. The only thing that interrupted Tieri’s post-game tongue-lashing was an equally intense tirade by senior linebacker Quentin Flowers, who vehemently challenged his team’s effort while also calling for his teammates to unite and rebound from the Knights’ 0-2 start to the season.
“We’re all in this together,” Flowers roared. “We’re all in this together.”
The very first play of the game was a harbinger of things to come for Kennedy as the Knights fumbled away the ball on their own 35-yard line. While the Hornets failed to capitalize on the turnover, it would be the only time in their six first-half possessions Midwood would fail to score.
After Kennedy went four-and-out on its ensuing possession, Midwood began to dent the scoreboard when quarterback Tyshawn Young crossed the end zone on a 12-yard sprint for an early 8-0 lead.
But that was only the beginning for the Hornets. With under a minute to play in the first quarter, the Midwood lead climbed to 14 when Young found David Stephens on a 49-yard catch-and-run. Then after a Kennedy punt on its next possession, Midwood made it 22-0 on the second play of the second quarter when Tyrese Weeks galloped 64 yards for a touchdown.
And the rout was on.
When Midwood (2-0) got touchdown runs from Tyler Bartholomew (8 yards) and Weeks (2 yards), the Hornets’ lead ballooned to 36-0, and the Knights’ night was over by halftime.
“You all need to care that much,” Tieri said, pointing to the still-seething Flowers after the game.
The Knights did show some renewed life in the second half, limiting Midwood to just one score. But they were kept in check as well, managing just one score of their own. That came on the final play of the game when Idrissa Ikiema hit pay dirt on a 4-yard run.
Tieri, his voice hoarse from his post-game diatribe, vowed to turn things around for his struggling Knights.
“That’s not us,” Tieri said, again pointing to the scoreboard. “If we play the way we played in the second half tonight, we’re 2-0 instead of 0-2. We’re going to get this turned around, and we’re going to get it turned around next week.”
At halftime, Tieri challenged his players to take pride in their game, promising that only those who showed a commitment to winning will find their way onto the field for next Friday night’s matchup with archrival Clinton.
“I think my mantra at halftime and in the second half of the game was, ‘I’m going to find out who those guys are that want to play, and those are the guys that are going to be on the field,” Tieri said. “I know I got at least 11 guys that feel that way, and those are the guys that are going to be out there fighting.”
The Knights’ slow start is similar to last year when Kennedy began the season 1-2 before peeling off five wins in its final six regular-season games to finish 6-3 and reach the postseason. From there, the Kennedy knocked off Fort Hamilton in the first round before losing to eventual PSAL runner-up Erasmus in the quarterfinals.
Tieri thinks another rebound is coming for his Knights.
“Clinton week is coming up guys,” the coach said. “For those of you who don’t know what that means, you’re going to learn quick. There will be alumni at our practices all week, standing over your shoulders and watching what you do. So you better be ready for this.”
So can Clinton week serve as a springboard for the Knights’ turnaround? Tieri thinks so.
“Definitely, 100 percent,” he said. “There’s nothing that’s going to bring it out in these guys like Clinton week, that’s for sure.”