Football: Falcons fly true to title
Kinkaid senior middle linebacker Jay Mullen thought his opportunity at winning the Southwest Preparatory Conference football title had passed after last year's 52-7 loss to Episcopal in the Division I championship game.
"I think most of the seniors assumed it was our last shot," Mullen admitted. "Next year was supposed to be a rebuilding season."
While many were elated about the hiring of Stephen Hill as head coach, the naysayers felt Kinkaid, one of the winningest programs in the SPC, might be a year away from returning to the top of the conference. After all, the fiery Hill had a different coaching style than his predecessor. He also imported his own version of the spread offense from Westbury, his former school. No one was sure how long it would take the Falcons to adjust to the new scheme.
But the rebuilding job at Kinkaid didn't take long at all. In a matter of months, the Falcons restored the school's proud gridiron tradition, earning Kinkaid its first SPC crown since 2003.
However, the Falcons got off to a slow start. They fell behind 16-10 at the half at Anahuac before pulling way for a 34-16 victory in the opener. Two weeks later, Kinkaid dug themselves an even bigger hole — 28-12 at the end of the third quarter - against Second Baptist, but the Falcons rallied to force overtime before eking out a 40-34 win.
"I think those two games showed what we were made of," said junior quarterback Ford Childress. "We won on the road at Anahuac and were down three scores against Second Baptist, but we somehow found a way to win."
Kinkaid's momentum came to an abrupt end in Week 5 at Tulsa Holland Hall - one of the toughest places to play in the conference - as the Falcons fell 33-14.
"We played just terrible," Hill said. "Offensively, we just couldn't get anything going."
Kinkaid bounced back the following week, knocking off defending champion Episcopal 21-19.
"That was a huge win for us," said junior running back Sam Eggleston. "Everyone was talking about Episcopal as the (SPC) favorite. We felt like we had something to prove."
The Falcons finished the regular season with a five game winning streak, clinching a second straight trip to the SPC title game with a hard-fought 34-23 victory over rival St. John's at St. John's.
Kinkaid set up a rematch with Tulsa Holland Hall - which handed the Falcons their lone loss - in the finals. Kinkaid seemed overwhelmed by the occasion, falling behind 17-0 at the half. Unlike the last meeting, Hill was remarkably calm in the locker room at half-time.
"We made mistakes and shot ourselves in the foot, but I told the players we still were in the game," Hill said. "I felt that if we could score early, we could take back the momentum."
Childress hooked up with sophomore wide receiver Macan Wilson on a 75-yard touchdown pass on Kinkaid's first possession. After the defense held Holland Hall on the next drive, Childress tossed a 29-yard TD strike to senior Glenn Allen Wind.
"We scored 14 points in the first five minutes and it was a new ballgame," Hill said.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons took the lead on Childress' seven-yard TD strike to senior William Reade. Childress completed 18 of 25 passes for 266 yards on the night, capping an all-conference season.
Childress said Kinkaid's earlier wins over Anahuac and Second Baptist gave the Falcons plenty of confidence.
"We knew we could come back," Childress said. "We'd done it before."
Wilson added his second touchdown on a five-yard run with just over six minutes remaining to put the game out of reach.
Kinkaid used a little trickery in the final minutes, picking up a critical first down on a short run by Eggleston on a fake punt on fourth-and-2.
"That was a huge first down. It allowed us to take some time off the clock," Hill said.
Although Holland Hall scored late, Kinkaid prevailed 27-24 to capture its first SPC crown in seven years.
"It's just an incredible feeling," Eggleston said. "This team has a burning passion to win. We would not be denied. There was no way weren't going to win the championship."
Mullen said Hill's arrival proved to be a game-changer. So did the emergence of Childress at quarterback. Childress completed 188 of 305 passes for 2,818 yards and 28 touchdowns and ran for six scores.
"Coach Hill brought a lot of energy, which had been lacking the last couple of years," Mullen said. "It also helps when you have somebody like Ford on the team. We have the best quarterback in the SPC."
Kinkaid's offense proved to be explosive, averaging 40 points and 452 yards per game. In addition to Childress, Eggleston and Wilson emerged as go-to players. Eggleston carried the ball 125 times for 965 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 45 passes for 575 yards and seven scores. Wilson finished with 60 receptions for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns and ran 32 times for 288 yards and two more scores.
"Everyone knows how good Ford is, but Sam was our workhorse all season, running and catching the ball out the backfield," Hill said. "The last five games, Macan was unstoppable. He was getting double-teamed and he still came up with catches. Aside from Ford, he might have been our (offensive) MVP in the championship game."
Wind also came up with several clutch catches down the stretch. Hill also praised the offensive line, anchored by juniors Marshall Markham and Blake Masterson. Junior Duncan Robinson played every snap at center after junior Andrew Das, the projected starter, broke his ankle.
"We're not very big up front, but we're very physical," Hill said. "With our offense, we were able to wear teams down in the second half. I had more than a few coaches tell me that at the end of the game."
Kinkaid's defense also returned to its former standard, with Mullen and senior defensive tackle Matt Williamson setting the tone all year. Collectively, the Falcons allowed only 19 points per game.
Against Holland Hall, junior defensive end Wells Johnson delivered a big sack and junior safety Andrew Campbell grabbed a fourth-quarter interception. But Hill said senior fullback Harlin Lawal stepped up at linebacker after sophomore David Duncan tore ligaments in his ankle during pre-game warm-ups.
"There were so many different players who contributed on both sides of the ball," Hill said. "This is a special group of guys."
Mullen was a bit skeptical about Kinkaid's chances going into the season, but he is glad he was wrong.
"It's hard to believe how far we've come. We were 2-7 and 4-5 my first two years and 7-4 during my junior season," Mullen said. "To go 10-1 and be SPC champions is more than I ever hoped for. This was a season I'll never forget."
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