Franklin D. Roosevelt came back from early losses this season to win its first-ever city title on Nov. 29.
“They hung in,” coach Paul Klyap said.
After losing its first two games of the season, FDR never lost again, racking up 11-straight wins and avenging its early defeat by McKee-Staten Island Tech by beating the Seagulls 22–14 for the program’s first Public School Athletic League Bowl Conference football title last Saturday night at Abraham Lincoln. The Cougars used the team’s opening losses as motivation to persevere.
“It’s been crazy,” said star running back Tristin Thomas. “We were 0–2, and then we just popped back up. From the third game we just started going ham.”
Thomas was once again a big reason for the Cougars’ success. The senior, who scored twice in the semifinals, put his team ahead for good with a 34-yard touchdown run with 7:52 to go in the title game. He later ensured the lead held up by stopping Marcus Jones short of the first down marker on fourth-and-six from Seagulls’ 21-yard line on the next possession.
The winning touchdown came two plays after McKee-Staten Island tied the score at 14–14 thanks to one-yard scamper and a two-point conversion run by Aaron Rubenstein with 8:39 left in the contest. The Seagulls (11–2) then tried an on-side kick, but FDR recovered at the 50-yard line. The Cougars (11–2) felt the good field position took some of the pressure off.
“It’s more relaxing,” said quarterback Kaseem Morrison. “It’s calming, soothing. We don’t have to go so far and work so hard.”
It wasn’t the only break Franklin Roosevelt got. A bizarre sequence of events led to a touchdown just before halftime and a 14–6 lead. Nadir Hassan connected on a 41-yard, fourth-down pass to Thomas down to the McKee nine-yard line in the closing seconds. The Cougars rushed to the line and spiked the ball, but did so before the referees restarted the clock. They were penalized five yards and two seconds were put back on the clock.
FDR then spiked the ball again as the whistle was blown without any time coming off. Klyap called a play he saved for just this moment. It shifted the entire offensive line except the center to the left side of the field. Morrison bobbled the snap, but found an open Monrico Cummings in the end zone for a 14-yard score. It was his second touchdown of the game.
“It was huge going in [to halftime] like that,” Klyap said.
The play was just a small part of a season to remember for the Cougars, who celebrated wildly after the clock ran out. Thomas ran all the way to the opposite end zone before circling back with his helmet above his head.
“We will talk about this 50 years from now,” Thomas said. “Hopefully I’ll go to college and talk about this. I’ll never forget this championship.”