Feets Don't Fail Me Now

The fall tradition of the St. John’s – Kinkaid football dates back to 1951.  Kinkaid leads the series 39 to 25.  St. John’s gained its most recent victory in 2012, the last time the Mavericks were in the playoff hunt.  For over two decades, under Head Coach Steve Gleaves, St. John’s has used the veer offense to put points on the board, methodically grinding down defenses one step at a time. In the steady synchronization of quarterback, fullback, and sometimes tailback in triple option offense, passing plays are few and far between.  The kicking game typically has found its place with PAT’s (point after touchdown), kickoffs, and punts.  A field goal is a rarity.  According to Gleaves, on his watch, St. John’s has never made two field goals in one game--until last Friday night when the Mavericks faced the Houston Christian Mustangs on Skip Lee Field.
Considering that less than a week before school started the Mavericks did not have a kicker listed on paper, the odds of this happening were astronomical.  Gleaves and Head Boys’ Soccer Coach Ziad Allan approached Matthew Garnett ’17, who never played football before, and Philip Kensinger ’16, who had only suited up in middle school, and coaxed them into the job. Both Kensinger and Garnett play soccer for St. John’s in the winter season and also play fall club soccer.
 
“We are glad they can juggle their soccer schedules,” said Gleaves.  “We worked out a plan for them to balance their academics, soccer, and football commitments.  We were fortunate to have both of them on the team.  They have had to miss games, but not both at the same time.   They are very good at what they do.”
 
“I was expecting it to be a lot different,” said Kensinger, who has been playing soccer since his youth.  “Coach Allan had me kick a soccer ball through the uprights and then replaced it with a football.  I was kicking up to 40-yard field goals. “
 
According to Garnett, also a long-time soccer player, the transition was not that difficult.  “A football is easier to kick due to the oval shape of the ball,” said Garnett.
 
While they back each other up when one is out, Kensinger’s focus is to kick extra points (PAT) and field goals.  Garnett specializes in kick-offs and punting.   Prior to the Houston Christian game, Kensinger had only attempted PAT’s.  He had yet to try a field goal in a game situation.
 
“When preparing to face a team, the kicking game is a huge weapon,” said Assistant Head Coach Alan Paul.  “It’s an art and a science--from deep kickoffs to pooch kicks, punts, onside kicks and points through the uprights.  The most important thing is that we trust the kickers to do their job.  If we can get to the 20-yard line, we have a chance to score.”
 
St. John’s was tied with Houston Christian 14-14 in the second quarter when Kensinger went out with his teammates, including deep snapper Charles Sampson ’18 and holder John Ballard ’16 to set up for his first-ever field goal attempt--a 26-yarder. Snap, hold, and kick were good for a Maverick 17-14 lead.  Prior to the half, the Mustangs scored another touchdown to take a 21-17 lead into intermission.  In the third quarter St. John’s got another touchdown, and Houston Christian kicked a field goal of their own to make it 24-23 Mustangs to start the fourth quarter. Both teams added a touchdown apiece in the final period. 
 
The difference would come down in part to a second field goal made by Kensinger and company.  This time, the set up was a 42-yard attempt from the left hash mark with St. John’s still trailing Houston Christian by one.
 
“I had not kicked many in that range in practice,” said Kensinger.  “I was not that confident, but I tried to stay as calm as possible and pretend it was practice. When I get nervous it never works.  I treated it as nothing special and stayed with a calm fluid motion.  My focus was on the kicking block, and as soon as John [Ballard] put his hand up, I just kicked the ball and didn’t think of anything else.”
 
Practice made perfect as the ball sailed through the uprights, giving the lead back to St. John’s and adding enough points for the win, solidifying the kicking game and giving St. John’s a chance to make the playoffs if they defeat Kinkaid on October 23.
 
“I really wanted to be a part of the Kinkaid week,” said Garnett.  “Watching the team struggle the last two seasons, I wanted to help out.  It was a really big win last Friday.”
 
“Seeing my teammates be happy and win our last game on Skip Lee Field was one of my favorite sports memories so far,” said Kensinger.  “It’s that moment you dream about in kindergarten.  I’m really looking forward to playing Kinkaid.”
 
A SPC playoff berth is on the line at the 65th annual St. John’s – Kinkaid game.  Just as Kensinger stayed in the moment to make the critical kick, the Maverick’s future depends on their ability to remember the past, but focus on the play in front of them.  If you see St. John’s get near the red-zone, be ready for the Mavericks to kick it in gear, putting points on the board from the ground and the air. Beating Kinkaid is no little feat!
 
St. John's put up a good fight against the Falcons leading 17-7 late in the second period.  Kinkaid put up 28 unanswered points to seal the win 35-24.  The game was aired on the Kube (57).
 
 
Sam Chambers – Athletic News
 
 
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