Encircled by a swarm of euphoric teammates, Massaponax senior quarterback Jay Kenney clutched the Northwestern Region Division 5 championship trophy to his chest and pretended he was going to make off with it.
"I'm kidnapping this thing," he announced, grinning.
But Kenney had no need to abscond with the hardware. After all, he'd rightfully earned it by throwing for one touchdown and rushing for another as the No. 9 Panthers rolled past visiting E.C. Glass, 28-7, to win their second region title in three years.
Kenney carried 15 times for 110 yards, and Octavius Williams returned an interception for a 26-yard touchdown to highlight another stifling performance by the Panthers' defense, which is yielding less than nine points per game.
"The defense is really the heart and soul of this team," Massaponax Coach Eric Ludden said.
That much was evident in the way the defense bottled up E.C. Glass quarterback Justin DeVaul. The Panthers (12-0) intercepted two DeVaul passes and produced what may have been the game-defining series.
After Massaponax took a 7-0 lead on a 30-yard pass from Kenney to Williams, E.C. Glass (7-5) responded by driving the ball to the Panthers 5-yard line. Two sacks, one holding penalty and a batted pass later, the Hilltoppers had been pushed back to the 29 and forced to punt.
Six plays later, Kenney broke loose for a 34-yard touchdown sprint. And 13 seconds thereafter, Williams stepped in front of a DeVaul pass and took it the distance. Considering the way the Panthers' defense was dominating and how their offense was churning out rushing yards -- 221 of them in total -- the game was all but decided.
Kenney, who has been the starting quarterback since an injury forced him into the role for the 2003 state title game against Hopewell, is one victory from returning to the championship stage. After pretending to abduct the trophy, he offered it to a few ex-teammates who'd come to watch the game.
"I think this team is a little bit better than that  team," he said. "We've got some swagger. We want to finish what we started two years ago."