MALDEN — When your defense forces six turnovers and your special teams unit adds two more, the game usually ends in your favor. The KIPP Academy football team intercepted five passes Thursday night, forced a fumble and recovered two free balls on special teams, en route to a 38-14 win over Mystic Valley at Malden Catholic.
“We talked about turnover ratio and how it’s the No. 1 indicator,” KIPP coach Jim Rabbitt said. “We’ve been trying to get it all year and it all clicked tonight. We had a different mentality this week. We knew it was a comeback week. We had a tough time defensively last week (39-0 loss to Nashoba). We wanted to show who we were and this is more indicative of what our defense can be.”
Taj White-King led the Panthers with three interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns. Quarterback Pierro Canales, making his first start of the season under center, scored once on a keeper and threw a 55-yard touchdown toss to White-King. Daniel Oluwasuyi scored on a 4-yard run and Aris Luna scooped a fumble and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
“We moved Pierro to quarterback just to get a bit more speed, he’s a dual-threat,” Rabbitt said. “We’ll see the film and how things go moving forward. It was the same game plan, we just added another dimension we assumed they weren’t ready for. He’s played more receiver for us.
“Daniel’s been getting better each week. He’s getting stronger and running lower. Taj had a great week last week. He was even better today with two pick 6’s and a touchdown catch. Different guys are stepping up and our athletes are making plays.”
From the opening play of the game it was clear the Panthers came hungry to play. KIPP recovered its own kickoff at Mystic Valley’s 27-yard line. The Panthers cashed in on the short field with a 4-yard touchdown plunge from Oluwasuyi with 7:56 remaining in the first quarter. Canales ran in the two-point conversion to give KIPP an 8-0 lead. The Eagles moved the chains to KIPP territory but White-King intercepted a Jonah Crain pass at the Panthers’ 25.
The Panthers added to their lead early in the second quarter. Luna’s 20-yard fumble return to the end zone boosted KIPP’s edge to 14-0 (conversion failed) with 8:10 remaining in the half. Canales closed the scoring for the half with a 1-yard keeper 83 seconds before halftime (conversion failed). The Panthers led 18-0 at the break.
“We talked it up all week,” Rabbitt said. “We had a different mentality. It just felt different at practice all week. Guys came ready to play and ready to go. The old mentality, ‘you practice how you play.’ That’s how it ended up for us.”
KIPP’s momentum didn’t stall in the second half. White King added to the Panthers’ lead with a 55-yard touchdown reception (conversion failed). Crain found Raymond Pho for a 24-yard touchdown pass to get the Eagles on the board with 3:35 left in the third quarter. The Panthers were forced to punt, for the first time, on their next possession but it worked in their favor when Mystic Valley fumbled on the play. KIPP led 26-6 heading into the fourth quarter.
Back-to-back pick 6’s from White-King in the fourth quarter, returned from 40 and 32 yards out, capped the Panthers’ scoring.
“Our guys executed. That’s the bottom line,” Rabbitt said. “We executed on both sides of the ball.”
Mystic Valley scored on Tyler Story’s 15-yard reception in the closing seconds for the 38-14 final.
KIPP (2-3) hosts Keefe Tech next Thursday night (7).