As the Kennedy Cougars football team looks back on its 2011 season, there are multiple reasons to hold their heads up high.
For head coach Nick Martone and the Cougars, the team was ranked as one of the bottom teams in Conference II when the preseason rankings were issued in August after a 2-6 season in 2010.
Even with playing a slightly modified schedule where Kennedy would not be scheduled against conference frontrunners like Garden City and Wantagh, the season figured to be an uphill climb.
Starting with a 14-0 loss to district rival Mepham in the season opener, the Cougars dropped its first three games on the schedule. However, on Oct. 1 in a home game against Great Neck South, the season would take a turn for the ages.
Down 30-22 early in the fourth quarter, Kennedy rallied off 23 unanswered points to collect its first win by a 45-30 final. Senior Matt Delbianco rushed for a season-high 213 yards and two scores in the effort.
The comeback had just shades of the drama compared to the Cougars’ next game against Carle Place/Wheatley. Trailing again late in the game, this time by a 28-7 score, Kennedy scored the final 27 points, capped off by a 38-yard touchdown reception by Ralph Faiella from Chris Racalbuto (three touchdown passes) as the clock hit triple zeroes to win 34-28.
Seemingly on a midseason role, Kennedy next defeated Westbury 14-0 and Herricks 28-7, both on the road. In the final regular season game, Kennedy figured to have to beat visiting New Hyde Park to assure a playoff spot. The Cougars cruised to a 21-6 victory capped off by an interception return for a touchdown by Michael McCormick.
Ranked as the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, Kennedy had the tall task of matching up with top-ranked and undefeated Garden City. Dealing with a dominant running game and pesky defense, the Trojans, who went on to win the Nassau County title, ended the Cougars great run with a 42-7 defeat.
Nonetheless, not only was getting into the playoffs by winning five straight games an astounding accomplishment after just a one-year absence, but the win total was the best for Kennedy since the 1973 season.
Racalbuto, a junior, had seven touchdown passes and rushed for four in the season. Delbianco led the team with six rushing touchdowns and Faiella had a team-high three touchdown receptions, along with a kickoff return for a score. Tom Ferner added three total scores, McCormick had a receiving and defensive touchdown and Patrick Kutil added two receiving touchdowns and a kickoff return for a score as well.
Chris Jones, Steve Weitzman and Delbianco led the defense, which gave up just 13 total points in the final three regular season games combined. In the three losses, Kennedy was outscored 69-14, but it was truly a tale of two seasons as the team outscored opponents 142-71 in the five wins before reaching the playoffs in a dramatic fashion.