Not much was expected out of the Chautauqua Lake football team this season. But Bryan Bongiovanni tells his guys: “You don’t let others set your expectations. You have the ability to set those expectations yourself.”
The Thunderbirds lived up to their expectations on Saturday afternoon, gutting out a 13-6 win over John F. Kennedy in a Class C Section VI quarterfinal.
“It’s amazing,” said senior Ryan Jafarijan, who ran for a touchdown and sealed the game with a late interception. “We’ve been counted out so many times before the season and during the season; it’s great to win this.”
CL/B improved to 4-4 overall with its second straight road win. And the Thunderbirds continue to relish in proving doubters wrong.
“Nobody thought these boys would win a game this year,” Bongiovanni said. “They won a game. ‘Well, they won’t make the playoffs.’ They made the playoffs. ‘We won a playoff game.’ I’m just so proud to be a part of this team.”
The big challenge comes next week as the Thunderbirds will take on Class C favorite Southwestern – a 49-16 winner over Southwestern – in the semifinals. The Trojans won 42-0 at Chautauqua Lake to start the season.
“That’s a great opportunity,” Bongiovanni said. “With pressure comes opportunity and we look forward to that challenge.”
Jafarijan opened the scoring with a nine-yard touchdown run in the middle of the second quarter. The Bears entered the red zone twice later in the half and got as close as the 4-yard line but after a penalty, senior Brandon Rowe preserved the lead with an end zone interception.
Caleb Chelton powered it in from the 1-yard line to complete the Thunderbirds scoring. The Bears didn’t get on the board until Jax Lighten’s 28-yard TD pass to Robert Witnauer with five minutes left.
“We came out flat,” JFK coach Jeff Sabatino said. “The energy level wasn’t there from the beginning and it showed. You can’t go into the playoffs and think you’re going to go through the motions.”
JFK fell to 5-3 with the loss. That included a 36-30 win over rival Cleveland Hill in Week 7 – the Bears first win over the Eagles since 2013.
“We did some things we haven’t done in a long time,” Sabatino said. “We had a winning record. As I told my seniors, they’re one of the few kids to beat Cleve Hill. Those are things you have to be proud of and we are.”