New Kent ends 14-year playoff drought with Senior Night triumph over York
Monday night’s Senior Night football game for New Kent can be considered a sweet sendoff for the group who had yet to have a winning season. However, that sendoff is going to have to wait until at the earliest the second Friday in November.
Riding momentum after a win at Smithfield and an outpour of scoring in the second quarter, the hosting Trojans pulled away early and survived a late rally from the visiting York Falcons 42-35 to not only claim a successful Senior Night victory but clinching the first playoff berth for New Kent in 14 years.
First quarter antics saw York score on the opening drive. A Luke Gatz to Jayden Flood-Brown 11-yard connection put the guests up 6-0. New Kent turned to leading rusher Evan Branch. His 67 yards on the ground during a drive was capped off by teammate Logan Powell’s plunge into the end zone to tie the game. Adam Caldwell’s placement bestowed a 7-6 advantage for the hosts.
York reached into its bag of tricks on the next drive with a fake punt, resulting in Gatz connecting with Troy Norman for 18 yards. The play sparked John Cassidy’s 27-yard tote into the end zone for a 12-7 lead for the Falcons.
New Kent began establishing control from that point going forward. Branch carried the ball in from 23 yards out for the next Trojan score. After teammate Adam Cable intercepted Gatz, the hosts marched down a short field that saw senior Dean Powell capitalize from one yard out to give the hosts a 21-12 lead. On the next New Kent series, quarterback Brody Smith completed a 27-yard connection to Joey Campbell on fourth and 26, upping the advantage to 16 (28-12). On the ensuing kickoff, York return man Rashad Stepney fumbled the ball that ended up in the hands of New Kent. The Trojans wasted little time as Branch found payday from four yards out, giving the hosts a 35-12 advantage at the halftime intermission.
Branch added his third score on the night with a 14-yard carry, stretching the gap to 30 (42-12) with 4:41 left in the quarter. But from there, the visiting Falcons kicked everything into overdrive.
On the ensuing kickoff, Troy Norman picked up the ball and scampered 65 yards for a score. A two-point conversion quickly cut the Trojan lead. Transitioning into the fourth quarter as part of the next series, Cassidy intercepted a New Kent pass to return possession to the victors. Ramsey Hayyat took over signal calling duties for the guests, completing passes of 28 and 21 yards for scores respectively to Tri Cartwright and Norman to return the game to single digits (42-35) with 5:05 left to play.
The Trojans saw a fourth down conversion attempt fall short, returning the ball to York at its own 31-yard line with 2:20 showing on the clock. But 18 seconds into their comeback attempt, Campbell made his way to the Falcon backfield, forcing a strip sack that found Trojan teammate Wade Grubbs making the recovery to seal the contest for the hosts.
New Kent head coach John Fulks commented about the fast start and how it helped clinch the team’s first playoff berth since 2004.
“I’m glad we exploded on them in the first half and it gave us a real advantage along with the big effort from the [offensive] line,” he said after the game. “Evan Branch put us on his shoulders tonight and he made some great runs.
“York is a well-coached team,” Fulks continued. “They are tough enough and we gave them opportunities. But tonight is our night and now we are in the playoffs.”
Branch’s huge night resulted in 246 rushing yards and three touchdowns. New Kent will close out the regular season on the road Friday night at Warhill before finding out their playoff destination.