Amir Smith and the rest of the Eastside and Kennedy players know that once the final whistle sounded that they were once again family as one Paterson, instead of the arch rivals they had been the previous three hours.

But even amongst family members, there are moments of boasting. And with one play late in the second quarter, Smith guaranteed himself a lifetime of bragging rights.

Smith’s 99-yard interception return for a touchdown on the last play of the first half gave Eastside the momentum it needed the rest of the way to defeat Kennedy, 28-12, in the 96th annual meeting between the two schools on Wednesday night at the Dr. Gerald E. Glisson Field House in Paterson.

With the victory, Eastside (5-3) put the finishing touches on consecutive winning seasons for the first time in more than a decade and, for the second year in a row, a win over Kennedy.

Kennedy (1-6) holds a 45-44-7 lead in the all-time series.

“I’ll be bragging about it all my life,” said Smith, who has three cousins who play for Kennedy. “Until the day I die, I’m going to always bring this up. This is fun, this is a memory and this is family so it’s going to mean a lot.”

Kennedy was threatening to go into halftime with the lead after Kyle Readus’ 37-yard run combined with an Eastside personal foul brought the ball down to the Ghosts 9.

Two plays later, Eastside lineman Arthur Edmonds’ hit on the quarterback as he threw allowed Smith to grab the wobbly pass, take off to his left, and then sprint down the left sideline untouched for the score.

“I just saw a souvenir,” Smith said. “There was a big space to run and I knew I got the speed to go get it done.

“When I saw the ball in the air, I knew I was gone.”

“I know when he catches it and breaks into his (top) speed, nobody’s going to catch him,” said teammate Ahsin Jacobs. “I screamed ‘touchdown’ as soon as he caught the pick.”

After the score, the referees huddled for a minute before deciding to pick up the flag that had been thrown in the end zone during the return, making the touchdown official and giving the Ghosts a 14-8 lead.

“I kinda saw the life come out of them,” Smith said. “When I was in the end zone celebrating, I saw the life on the (Kennedy) sidelines was just dead. The crowd was jumping and I was like that’s it, it’s over.”

Wymeir Reed built upon the momentum 73 seconds into the third quarter when he found Jacobs for a 42-yard touchdown to make it 22-6.

Kennedy trimmed the deficit to 10 on Arnim Hunte’s 1-yard TD run on the second play of the fourth quarter, but Reed and Jacobs put the game away just 2:20 later, connecting for a 24-yard scoring strike.

“Everybody just got hyped (from Smith’s interception) and we fed off the energy from it,” Reed said. “It feels good to end on a good note because I’m going to miss playing with my brothers.”

Reed in his final high school game, completed 3-of-7 passes for 91 yards and three touchdowns. The first TD, a 25-yard pass to Albert Canty, and Smith ensuing two-point conversion gave Eastside an 8-6 lead it never relinquished with 6:48 left in the half.

Canty ran for 96 yards on 12 carries, while Smith added 63 yards on the ground on 13 carries. Reaus ran the ball 21 times for 97 yards, including a 7-yard TD that gave the Knights a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Following the conclusion of the game, both teams took a knee at the center of the field where they, as one group, addressed by Eastside head coach James Magazine and Kennedy head coach Ron Jackson. The message they and others echoed was, as Magazine put it, “at the end of the day, we’re one Paterson.”

In a city where many of the positives are overshadowed by violence, football and the rivalry, which Magazine acknowledges has “lost some of its flair,” remains a source of pride within Paterson.

For everyone involved, that shared bond is greater than rivalry itself, though there is still room in that unified front for friendly bragging rights.

“We’re all together and this city wants everybody to grow as one,” Reed said. “As football players that’s what we try to do. We try to grow and show that there is a unity in the city, not just killings and people that want to hate one another.

“In that time we’re just locked in and worrying about beating up on one another for those four quarters. After that and before that, it’s all love.”

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Jason Bernstein can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JBernsteinHS. Like High School Sports on Facebook.

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