It took guts just to catch the punt. There was a crowd around Connor Kennedy and a defender charging toward him with a clear path.
Kennedy caught it anyway, wiggled around every player in his path, and darted down the sideline for a 58-yard touchdown.
“It didn’t cross my mind at all [to call for a fair catch]. If that’s coming to me, I’m returning it,” Kennedy said of the third-quarter score that opened up the game in Lenape’s 20-7 win over visiting St. Augustine on Friday night.
The play was Kennedy’s second long touchdown of the night. He caught a 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
But the punt return underscored a second-half effort in which Lenape wore down the Hermits and totally controlled both sides of the ball. The Indians were more physical than St. Augustine and didn’t shy away from big plays when the opportunities were there.
Lenape junior Hamza Bruce was a terror on both sides of the ball. As a linebacker, he was regularly hurrying St. Augustine’s quarterback and registered one sack, and he helped grind out yards as a running back.
“They put us in the weight room all summer," Bruce said of the Indians coaching staff. "They teach us physicality. We go over tackling all week, so we’re ready to do it on Friday night.”
By the looks of it, on paper and on the field, things should have played out differently.
St. Augustine (0-2) was highly touted and highly ranked in the state. The team featured a 300-pound running back/defensive tackle in Texas A&M recruit Isaiah Raikes.
The Hermits fed Raikes several times in the first quarter but went away from the strategy after Lenape showed it wasn’t going to be bulled over. He finished with five carries for 19 yards, all in the first half.
Lenape (2-0) was also the less-experienced team.
Like Bruce, Lenape quarterback Brady Long is just a junior, but he showed poise and solid judgment with his arm and legs.
“You can’t replicate experience on Friday nights,” said Lenape head coach Joe Wojceichowski. “So gaining that experience [last year] — and knowing the expectations of this program. There’s expectations for this program to win football games. They worked their tails off to get better, to get stronger in the offseason.”
The teams went into halftime tied, 7-7.
Lenape received the second-half kickoff and, on the third play of the third quarter, Xavier Coleman — one of several Indians with big-play potential — broke free for an 84-yard touchdown.
It set the stage for a half in which Lenape looked stronger as the game wore on, breaking tackles on offense and making big tackles on defense.
The Hermits, in fact, could rarely sustain a drive at any point in the game, and its only score came in the second quarter when quarterback Austin Leyman connected with Nasir Hill for a 54-yard touchdown.
Tyler Davis, another junior, intercepted a pass with four minutes left to essentially seal the win for the Indians.
“This is a huge win for our team,” Kennedy said. “We wanted to be back up in the elite section of the rankings. We want to be recognized again. But coming in, their ranking didn’t faze us at all. It didn’t matter. We were going to come in and play our game."
St. Augustine 0 7 13 0 — 20
Lenape 0 7 0 0 — 7
L: Connor Kennedy 50 pass from Brady Long (Dylan Shank kick)
SA: Nasir Hill 54 pass from Austin Leyman (Luke Snyder kick)
L: Xaiver Coleman 84 run (Shank kick)