Two-time defending Harvard Cup champion McKinley experienced its first taste of true adversity this season and came through with flying colors Friday night.
The Macks surrendered 22 points in a quarter, which was more than they'd yielded in an entire game since starting a winning streak that extended to 19 with a 48-22 triumph over East before about 300 at All High Stadium.
"The kids got caught up in a personal thing and it was a situation where there was a lot of talking," said McKinley coach William Johnson, whose team entered the weekend riding the third-longest winning streak in state, ranked sixth in both The News' large school poll and the state Class A rankings, and top-seeded for the city league playoffs that begin a week from today.
"Our kids quit doing what they were supposed to do, especially on the defensive line," Johnson said, referring to East's big second quarter that sent the game to intermission tied, 22-22. "They were too busy talking that they didn't execute plays. We think we got it straightened out at halftime."
The talking among both teams continued after the Macks (9-0 overall, 8-0 in Harvard Cup) blew it open with four unanswered second-half touchdowns. The officiating crew called the game with 3:28 left after McKinley had recovered a fumble at the East 1 and players from both sides were giving each other the business.
Before that, McKinley had lost star running back Arvin Bell -- who carried eight times for 39 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion -- to an ankle injury late in the second quarter. Just after halftime, the game was delayed for about 15 minutes as East (3-6, 3-5) defensive back Thomas Woodley was wheeled off on a stretcher after suffering a possible concussion on a great play to knock away a long pass.
Then, McKinley quarterback Tamere Shannon removed his jersey and angrily began walking from the field after being pulled following two consecutive Macks delay-of-game penalties.
"I was just really frustrated and got caught up with my emotions because I was into the game so much," said Shannon, who returned on McKinley's next possession and directed two more scoring drives. "I wanted to put my team on my shoulders, rise to the occasion and lead them to victory. But at the time I was just really frustrated and I apologized to my teammates for doing that."
Willie Burnett Jr. returned an interception 50 yards for a score to put McKinley up, 40-22, with 2:35 left in the third quarter. He also caught a 7-yard scoring pass from Shannon in the first quarter.
"Their talking got into our heads a little bit, but as a family in the locker room we got together and talked about it," said Burnett, who also made seven tackles. "We kept our composure and came out with the victory."
Troy Williams (nine carries for 80 yards and one TD) and Maurice Gibbs ( 3/4 9/1 ) did a great job in Bell's place. Brian Gordan scored twice for the Panthers and hard-hitting Randall Wilkie had three sacks among 14 tackles.