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Kennedy Stakes Claim As One Of Trojans’ Best QBs

Southwestern quarterback Aidan Kennedy has completed 63 of 101 passes for 1,075 yards and 15 touchdowns heading into Friday night’s Section VI Class C championship football game at Medina.

He is doing exactly what signal callers on Hunt Road in West Ellicott have been doing for most of the last two decades. But for all the successful pinpoint passes and deep corner routes the 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior has thrown in this truncated, pandemic-delayed season, the play that might make QB alums Chris Stoddard, Zack Sopak and Cole Snyder especially proud came on the opening drive of the fourth quarter in the Trojans’ sectional semifinal last Saturday at Clymer Central School.

And the ball never left Kennedy’s right hand.

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The Wolfpack and the Trojans were supposed to meet in Week Three of the five-game regular season, but the much-anticipated matchup of two of the top small-school programs in Western New York had to be canceled, because of COVID-19 protocols.

The Trojans’ desire to make their fifth straight trip to the sectional title game, however, has never wavered and, fittingly, Kennedy has played a huge role in all of that, particularly in the last three games.

“He knows what he’s seeing out there,” Southwestern head coach Jake Burkholder said. “He’s able to make the right calls and the right reads, and the coaches have the confidence and his teammates have the confidence to follow.”

In the first contest after the pause — a 63-6 victory over Chautauqua Lake — Kennedy completed 11 of 12 passes for 268 yards and five touchdowns. The next week, in a 41-7 playoff-clinching win over Cassadaga Valley/Falconer, Kennedy was 13 of 23 for 222 yards and two TDs. He also rushed eight times for 38 yards and another score.

That set up last Saturday’s sectional semifinal showdown against Clymer/Sherman/Panama, which had won 29 of its last 30 games, including a pair of New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championships. While it wasn’t Kennedy’s best game through the air — he completed 13 of 29 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown — he did run for 69 yards, a total he wouldn’t have approached 18 months earlier when Southwestern played in the NYSPHSAA Class C semifinal.

In that game, Kennedy still showed talent beyond his years, though, completing 12 of 20 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, the Trojans couldn’t hold a halftime lead and lost in heartbreaking fashion to Susquehanna Valley, 35-28.

Fast-forward to last Saturday.

When Kennedy reached the huddle for the first offensive series of the fourth quarter, Southwestern led, 17-14, but the margin was hardly comfortable. In fact, the situation was mindful of that frigid day at Brockport State in November 2019. The difference this time between the sophomore version of Kennedy and the junior version of Kennedy, however, was his athleticism.

Here’s how that played out against Clymer/Sherman/Panama on arguably the most important possession of the Trojans’ season.

With a drive start at the Trojans’ 37-yard line, Kennedy completed passes of 11 and 7 yards to Nate Johnson and Matt Pannes respectively. After two incompletions sandwiched around a pair of runs by Zishan Munir, Southwestern faced a third-and-10 from the Wolfpack 34.

Calling signals from the shotgun, Kennedy took the snap and immediately felt pressure from the Wolfpack’s defensive line, forcing him to roll to his right. When he didn’t find an open receiver, he took off. Thanks to a couple of good blocks, Kennedy reached the 29-yard line before cutting to the outside. Now at full speed — and the football still in his right hand — he sprinted down the sideline and wasn’t tackled until he reached the Wolfpack 2.

That play, Burkholder maintains, was Kennedy knowing what his “end goal” is and a byproduct of his work during and after the season.

“He wants to play football at the next level and he knows he has to continually progress and not be complacent doing that,” Burkholder said. … He’s one of the most determined kids we’ve got.”

After the critical 32-yard scramble, the Trojans were set up with a first-and-goal. Three plays later, Munir scored on a 1-yard plunge. Neves Hoose’s extra-point kick pushed the Trojans’ lead to 24-14 with 8:19 remaining and they held on for a 24-21 victory.

“Sitting behind (Snyder, who is now playing at Rutgers University) my freshman year,” Kennedy said, “it really showed me how much it takes, putting in offseason workouts and, outside of practice, how much needs to be put in to be successful on the field and to help my team be in the best position to win.”

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Since taking over Southwestern’s varsity quarterback reins in 2019, Kennedy hasn’t seemed at all bothered by the expectations that go with it. For his career, he has completed 146 of 244 passes for 2,944 yards and 40 touchdowns. He has been intercepted just six times.

In other words, the son of Pat and Amee has to be considered a member of Southwestern’s Mount Rushmore of QBs that also includes Stoddard, Sopak and Snyder. And much like when that trio played for the Trojans, Kennedy is directing the show, making the throws and running for daylight on a weekly basis.

“He keeps a clear head and he doesn’t get rattled,” Burkholder said. “… He’s just a good athlete, he’s a good kid and he’s a leader. Even though he’s not that vocal with everybody, the kids follow him.”

Now it’s on to Medina.

“I know all our guys are going to leave it all on the field,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got a great senior class here that doesn’t want to end on a loss … They mean a lot to me and I know how much this season means to them. I know I need to do my job to help them finish their career on a high note.”

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