Mark Thomas heard all the haters this week, the ones who downplayed Thomas Jefferson’s win over Flushing in Week 1, the ones who said the Orange Wave still don’t belong in the PSAL City Championship division.
But eight days later, it’s hard to dispute that Jefferson isn’t the real deal.
The upstart squad from East New York, which won the Bowl division title last year, dominated traditional powerhouse Sheepshead Bay after the first quarter en route to a 28-20 win Sunday at Moe Finkelstein Field in Brooklyn.
“We’re gonna shock the city when they hear about this one,” a beaming Thomas said afterward.
The naysayers and critics caught Jefferson’s attention during the week. Everyone, the Orange Wave said, they weren’t ready to take on a team like the Sharks — and the words were used as a source of motivation.
“Our team wanted it more,” assistant coach Guy Cyrus said.
At the start, though, it looked like Jefferson (2-0) was in over its head. Sheepshead running back Devin Lee took the very first play from scrimmage 63 yards to the end zone and the Sharks (1-1) were up 6-0 before the large Orange Wave crowd could even settle into their seats.
It got worse before it got better. On Jefferson’s first play, from scrimmage, Thomas fumbled and Sheepshead recovered at the Jeff 20-yard line. Three plays later, Sharks quarterback Adley Thony found Jose Marc Sears for a 13-yard touchdown and before the Orange Wave could gain a yard they were in a 12-0 hole.
But that was the last time Sheepshead Bay would score until there was 2:49 left remaining. Jefferson clamped down on defense and locked up the Sharks’ vaunted Delaware offense using a 4-3 and 4-4 scheme – nothing special, according to Cyrus. The Orange Wave’s coaching staff noted afterward that a collection of “sandlot” coaches were able to beat Sheepshead’s veteran coaching staff.
“We just came to play,” Cyrus said. “We can bang with the best.”
Jefferson got on the board with 5:48 left in the first half on a 3-yard run by Rahim Salahuddin, which was set up by a 21-yard scamper by Malik Knox down to the 10-yard line. The Orange Wave took the lead, 14-12, on a trick play with 48 seconds left in the first half. Quarterback Al Amin Stewart handed off to receiver Javon Lewis on an end-around, but he stopped and threw across his body to an open Dajon Dixon.
“He was just supposed to toss it back,” Dixon said. “It worked good.”
After halftime, Stewart hit Thomas, who broke numerous tackles, for a 53-yard touchdown with 8:55 left in the third quarter. The quarterback, who was 5-of-10 for 126 yards, hooked up with Dixon on a 9-yard touchdown with 4:00 left that all but sealed the victory. That was set up by a 19-yard run by Salahuddin (15 carries, 53 yards).
Thomas finished with 129 all-purpose yards, including 78 receiving, and a huge interception of Thony at the end of the third quarter after his fumble gave Sheepshead Bay back the ball.
“I shouldn’t be fumbling the ball in the first place,” Thomas said.
But Jefferson didn’t drop the ball overall. After Thony found Lee for a 27-yard touchdown with 2:49 left and Sheepshead got the ball back, the Orange Wave held strong. With the Sharks on the 15-yard line and facing 3rd-and-10, Will Noble intercepted Thony’s pass to effectively end the game and send the New York City football community abuzz.
“Our confidence boost is way up,” said Thomas, whose team travels to defending champ Curtis next week. “Everybody is gonna look at us differently. I think we can compete for a championship.”
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