BY MARK JAFFEE
WATERBURY — Kennedy High junior Zech Rountree heeded the advice of his coaches with the outcome hanging in the balance with less than two minutes to go in the game Saturday.
“My coaches put me in the position to succeed,” said Rountree. “They told me to play man coverage and stay back and make a read. When it started raining, the ball became very slippery. I knew that I needed to hold onto the ball tight when it came my way.”
Rountree intercepted an Alex Gonzalez pass near the sideline and the Eagles held on for an 18-14 season-opening win over Sacred Heart-Kaynor Tech in Naugatuck Valley League football at Jimmy Lee Stadium.
Kennedy led, 18-0, before the Hearts mounted a strong comeback that fell just short.
“This was big for us,” said Rountree. “The Hearts made a great comeback, and their quarterback is very good. It’s hard to game-plan for him.”
Gonzalez rallied the Hearts by throwing two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the first to Josue Salazar on a 34-yard strike on the first play of the period. Sophomore Marques Williams caught the two-point conversion, cutting the lead to 18-8.
Then with under five minutes left in the game, Williams (seven receptions, 75 yards) caught a 17-yard TD pass from Gonzalez to trim the margin to 18-14. The two-point conversion failed, but the game was far from over.
The Hearts forced Kennedy to punt, but the Eagles’ Kelvin Hernandez recovered the ball when it hit off a Hearts’ player. Kennedy was forced to punt a second time, but on the third play Rountree came up with his game-clinching play.
Sacred Heart’s Justin Stephens had a terrific second half, rushing for 128 yards on only 11 carries. Gonzalez finished with 146 yards passing, completing 12 of 20 throws.
In the first quarter, Kennedy’s Tre Graves scored on a 6-yard run for a 6-0 lead. In the second quarter, Kennedy’s Chris Echevarria intercepted a pass in the end zone.
The score stayed that way until the third quarter, when Hector Ginorio scored on a 19-yard TD run at 8:57 for a 12-0 edge.
A little over a minute later, Kennedy caught a huge break when sophomore Reis Muccino tipped a ball to his teammate, Graves, who grabbed the ball and sprinted down the field for a 67-yard interception return for a score.
“That was my first varsity interception,” noted Graves. “We always practice the tip drill. I just knew that I had to catch the ball and tried my best to bring it to the end zone.”
In last year’s opener, Kennedy held on for a 21-20 win over the Hearts.
“We had a lot of young players step up and contribute,” said Kennedy coach Chris Sarlo.
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