By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
There was a pulse at RFK Stadium Sept. 14 as high school football took center stage at the venerable old site that holds so many memories to so many people. The second act of the DC Kickoff Classic wasn’t the most competitive doubleheader the District has ever seen, but the stage is always special to the players, coaches, friends and family who participate in the event.
However, this was not any given Saturday where the underdog would claim an epic moment. The favored teams rolled to victories with relative ease by a combined score of 82-18. Archbishop Carroll beat DCIAA contender Woodrow Wilson 48-12 while Friendship Collegiate used a second half surge to pull away from H.D. Woodson to win the Ward 7 trophy with a 34-6 victory.
“This is a game that means so much to us,” Friendship Head Coach Mike Hunter said. “I grew up watching [NFL] games in this stadium, so having the chance to bring in a group of young men and write our own chapter of history in this stadium’s pages is something that you just can’t describe.”
Despite its lopsided conclusion, the second game of the doubleheader was the one fans came to see. The lower bowl of the old ballpark was three quarters full as the late arriving crowd brought energy into building after the uncompetitive opener.
Woodson has won two of the last three city titles and normally uses the game against Friendship as the benchmark for their place in the D.C. high school football hierarchy. While dominant in the public school conference, stepping up a level to face WCAC teams and one of the top charter school programs in the country sets the tone for the regular season.
Friendship didn’t look like the prohibitive favorite when they were coming into the game. They were tight for most of the first half and looked as if they were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. However, the reigning DC State Champs got a huge play from one of their defensive playmakers that seemed to settle them down and set the dominant tone for the remainder of the game.
Defensive back Ali Abdul-Hakim intercepted a pass and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown for a 7-0 lead that Friendship wouldn’t relinquish. There was an uneasiness on the Knights sideline until Abdul-Hakim’s big play. They never lost their composure nor discipline but weren’t fluid on either side of the ball until that game changing moment.
“That pick was so huge for us because it kind of calmed everyone on our sideline down,” Abdul-Hakim said. “We weren’t scared, but we were a little tight.”
From there, Friendship’s defense forced two other turnovers before halftime. The Knights went into the break with momentum following a late 15-yard touchdown pass from Dyson Smith to Jaquan Blake. Friendship scored three more times after the intermission before the cosmetic TD from Wilson that kept them from being shutout.