DELANO—There have been many ups and downs for the Kennedy football program since its first college game in 2009.
There was a 30-game losing streak, followed a few seasons later by three Central Section championships in five years. But through it all, one thing had eluded the Thunderbirds – a league title.
On Friday night, Kennedy finally ticked that box with a 21-3 win over rival Chavez in a win-win contest for the South Sequoia League crown.
“We’ve been chasing it for years,” Kennedy’s fifth-year coach Mario Millan said of the SSL title. “We have been close. We knew that because of the defense we put on the table this year, we would have a better opportunity to hunt her down. As long as we get a few points on the board, that’s all we need for our defense. So I’m happy for our community, I’m happy that our program is finally freeing us from this monkey.
The past few weeks have been difficult for both schools. Each had their games canceled due to fears of escalating violence in the area following a shooting just north of Delano that killed two people and injured two others.
It was the first high school football game at Delano since, and also doubled as Kennedy’s homecoming night. The original Homecoming was postponed when RFK’s home game against McFarland was cancelled.
“It was what it was, but I wanted it to be a keepsake for our kids,” Millan said. “They lost that memory that night, so I wanted them to have an even better memory tonight. So what happened before will pass and they won’t even care.
A packed house of fans saw a fierce defensive battle from the opening whistle.
Chavez (6-3, 4-1) opened the scoring with a 28-yard field goal from Jacob Loya on the Titans’ first possession. The play was set up by a 41-yard run by Israel Gonzalez on the first play from scrimmage. Unfortunately, Chavez only had five more first downs the rest of the game, with Gonzalez counting for four of them. He finished with 75 yards on 22 carries.
Kennedy (7-2, 5-0) enjoyed good field position all night and made the most of five long passing games to build a comfortable lead in the third quarter.
Thunderbirds quarterback Julian Orozco was just 8 of 24 passes but finished with 239 yards and two long touchdowns.
Already leading 7-3 at halftime, Orozco joined Hugo Loera on a 42-yard scoring play on RFK’s first try in the second half. Loera, who finished with four catches for 90 yards, took a short pass, broke a tackle and sprinted into the end zone just 1:29 into the third quarter.
After the Thunderbirds forced a punt from Chavez, Orozco threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Gamiez Helm to make it 21-3 with 8:04 left in the third quarter. Helm had three catches for 114 yards.
“There were breakdowns tonight defensively and then offensively we just couldn’t get started,” said Chavez coach Jesse Ortega, whose side were playing for the first time in three weeks after a cancellation. and a week off. “I honestly believe we are better than what we showed tonight, but hey, you are playing a rival game, on the road the environment is a big factor. So congratulations to RFK for what they have done. They took it outright and there’s nothing we can do about it except regroup and get ready for next week.
That was more than enough for a Kennedy defense that limited the Titans to 141 yards from scrimmage and just six first downs. In the SSL game, the Thunderbirds combined to outscore their five opponents 112-29.
“Our guys are proud to play defense,” Millan said. “We’re a squad so they’re just playing defense so they’re excited to be there and they’ve been doing a great job preparing all week. They know that when they go out, it’s their chance to shine.
Millan was also happy to have his team part of what he sees as a surge in talent in the region.
“I’ve been here a long time and I know a lot of guys who coach, and Delano was never really taken seriously when it comes to football,” Millan said. “So those kinds of shows, because the three programs have really started to grow and become really strong, so to be able to do that tonight, in Delano, in front of a big crowd really shows that football is really strong in this city. “
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