By Ethan Hanson
GRANADA HILLS >> After a quarter of sloppy play and penalties, the battle for the North Valley eventually lived up to the hype Friday night at Kennedy High.
Kennedy quarterback Giovanni Maffei connected with John Paul Soto for the go-ahead 23-yard touchdown, and linebacker Kevin Pham recovered a fumble on fourth down with 1:24 remaining to give Kennedy the 26-23 win over Granada Hills.
The win gave Kennedy the Granada Hills Chamber Of Commerce trophy for the first time since 2009 in a rivalry that began when Kennedy first opened its doors in 1971. After the game, the Kennedy student section stormed the field to celebrate the end of the school’s five year drought to the Highlanders.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable tonight,” said Maffei, who was 16 of 20 for 201 yards and added a rushing touchdown. “It felt like I was playing in a college game tonight. I can’t thank my team enough and how hard they fought.”
Granada Hills had a chance to tie the game with 4 seconds left. Daniel Gutierrez’s 53-yard kick had the distance but hung wide right.
“I’m so proud of the way our team played tonight,” Granada Hills coach Walter Roby said. “We made some early mistakes and we had some calls that went against us, but that’s football. Props to the way Kennedy played. They showed a lot of heart and energy. They deserved this one.”
The game started off very slow with each team drawing 10 penalties in the first quarter alone. Granada Hills quarterback Ernesto Guevara took off for a 56 yard touchdown run only to be called back due to a holding penalty. Granada Hills would overcome the penalties and finish the first drive with a 1-yard touchdown carry from Victor Cannon to make the score 7-0.
Guevara later led a 70-yard drive that he finished with a 2-yard rush into the end zone for a 13-0 Granada Hills lead midway through the second quarter. Guevara threw for 174 yards on 14 of 23 passing along with nine carries for 83 rushing yards.
Kennedy found its rhythm offensively and running back Nathan Tartaro’s 2-yard touchdown run gave the Cougars their first points. After forcing Granada Hills to punt, the next offensive possession Tyree Morrison sped down the middle of the field 30 yards for the touchdown for a 14-13 Kennedy lead with 2:36 remaining in the first half.
Granada Hills connected a 37-yard field goal by Gutierrez to end the half after Maffei was picked off by Granada Hills cornerback Eke Ugorji.
The game saw five lead changes, and it came down to who would make the fewest mistakes. Granada Hills lost Edwin Melendez in the third quarter after being called for unsportsmanlike conduct for shoving a Kennedy player after the play was blown dead.
“This game was amazing,” Johnson said. “This is what high school football was all about. The fans on both sides were great but this was for our community. The trophy is ours.”
Granada Hills will be at home next week to take on Heritage Christian and Kennedy will open conference play on the road against Sylmar.
Watch the whole game here: