Stewart powers Jefferson to first round upset
After underperforming all season, Thomas Jefferson pulled off the kind of win that matched its lofty preseason expectations.
Following a regular season full of close losses, the Orange Wave put things together against Canarsie in the opening round of the PSAL Championship Division playoffs, shutting out the third-seeded Chiefs, 24-0, Saturday, avenging a regular season loss to Canarsie three weeks ago.
"This is a good win for us," Jefferson wide receiver Malik Martin. "It sets a statement that you don't play a team's record, you play the team. We came in with a clean playoff record and we all expected this win because we were hungry."
Much of Jefferson's success Saturday was attributed to the play of quarterback Al Amin Stewart, who has missed the majority of the season.
"We didn't have him to begin the season because his arm was injured. He's a multi-sport star and the baseball season had worn him out," Jefferson coach Gus Cyrus said. "This is his third start of the season and he's really adjusted well, giving us a very dangerous tool to work with."
Judging by Stewart's performance Saturday, it appeared clear that had No. 14 Jefferson (4-6) been playing with him the entire season, it would have been a very different team coming into the playoffs. The biggest difference being that Stewart brings a legitimate passing threat to a more run-orientated offense.
The initial and only offensive set in the first quarter for Canarsie (7-3) was indicative of its problem the entire game, bad red zone offense. Following a 13-play drive that took them from their own 43-yard line all the way to Canarsie's one, the Chiefs could not find the end zone and turned the ball over on downs.
"We had a lot of missed opportunities out there, that was the story of the game. We had our chances and we blew them," said Canarsie coach Mike Camardese. "Our red zone conversion was non-existent because of mental mistakes."
Following a scoreless first half, the Orange Wave recorded the game's first touchdown with 8:13 left in the second quarter on a quarterback keeper from Stewart, the first of three on the day.
"The line blocked well and everything went right today," Stewart said. "I felt really good out there and we just came out like it was a regular season game."
The second score for the Orange Wave was the most spectacular play of the game. Following a Jefferson fumble on Canarsie's 3-yard line, the Chiefs came up with possession deep in their own territory. On the second play of the drive, Stewart hit Martin on a simple slant that he exploded into a 97-yard touchdown with 7:45 remaining in the third quarter.
"All I could think was touchdown, I'm about to score a touchdown," Martin said. "I caught the ball and all I saw was green so I took off. I didn't think they would catch me once I got past the last man and I never looked back."
Stewart scored his final touchdown of the game with 6:57 left in the fourth quarter with another keeper. The junior finished with 5-of-8 passing for 175 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior running back Michael Abanikanda finished things off with a 28-yard touchdown run with 42 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.
Despite his team's loss, Camardese was proud of his team and commended the Orange Wave on their victory.
"They've got some great athletes. They've probably got more than any other team in the city," Camardese said. "I don't doubt that this team can shake things up moving forward."
Cyrus was cautiously optimistic after the game, curtailing the post-game celebration. He told them it was only one win and to get their minds on the next week, although he did acknowledge that Jefferson is out to prove people wrong.
"Everyone doubted us, but you know what, we're back on the map," Cyrus said. "Whatever happens next week is going to happen, but we're going to be ready to play."