The Pistons lost the game, but won the war.
After nearly seven years of playing home games on a rival school’s field, Automotive HS’s football team finally got a real home game, taking the McCarren Park field against undefeated Bayside HS on Saturday.
Though the Pistons dropped to 1–2 in a narrow 21–20 loss, another victory moved closer to the team’s grasp: playing football games on Friday nights next year at the city park across the street from the school.
The Pistons have been playing their home games at the Grand Street Campus more than a mile away — officially the home field for the Grand Street Campus HS Wolves — because the city and the school’s athletic league wouldn’t let them play in McCarren Park due to security concerns.
After we published a story about the school’s plight, the Public School Athletic League and the Parks Department reversed the decision and approved two genuine home games for Automotive HS on Sept. 25 and Nov. 7.
Coach Haz Khawaja had “one of the most hectic days I ever had,” as he coordinated with teachers, volunteers and police officers to line the field and erect barriers to make the field game-ready.
“It went about as smoothly as it could have gone,” said Khawaja. “Someone even walked by and donated eight cases of paint for our next game.”
About 100 fans — students, teachers and neighborhood residents — gathered around the track field to watch the exciting game and cheer for the home team.
English teacher Mike Sill, who had previously trekked with the team to the Grand Street, said it was one of the best crowds for an Automotive game he had seen.
“People at the park just stopped and watched the game,” said Sill. “Grand Street is intimidating. Here, everyone walks around the track and it’s much more a part of the surroundings.”
The team’s players generously compared the crowd to an “NFL atmosphere” and that they “felt alive” playing so close to their own high school.
“I’m happy that we have a home,” said senior Lance Penceal, who caught the Piston’s first touchdown. “Nobody else shares our home. It’s just ours.”
The team may have been jittery playing in its new home, as the Pistons’ defense gave up an early touchdown in the first quarter before quarterback Giovanni Flores connected with Penceal for 50 yards.
But Bayside scored two more touchdowns, walking off the field at halftime with a 21-7 lead.
The Pistons settled down and turned up the ignition with Owusu Davis scoring with a 20-yard rush, and Kareem Flats catching a touchdown pass late in the third quarter.
Khawaja chose to go for a two-point conversion, but Bayside turned back the attempt.
It proved to be a turning point in the game, as Flores was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter.
But after the game, Khawja wouldn’t second-guess his decision.
“When you get a chance to win a game, I take that chance,” said Khawaja. “We want to dictate the action, not have someone dictate it for us.”
Controlling the action a strategy that has served them well on and off the field. Now, finally, it has earned the Pistons a home field of its own.