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Adams drops first home game in four years

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Tristan Leefoon was so excited that he could hardly sleep Saturday night, opting to wake up at 7 a.m. Sunday. The adrenaline was pumping through Michael Fladell’s 6-foot-7, 335-pound frame since Friday afternoon, when the John Adams football team walked onto their brand-new field for the first time to practice.

Finally, after four and a half years of playing all its game on the road, the Spartans were set to play a home game.

“It’s a beautiful field, there’s no turf burns, no dirt,” said Leefoon. “We always wanted to play a home game.”

And in true “Field of Dreams” fashion, the state-of-the-art AstroPlay turf — an artificial grass field that has the look and feel of real grass — brought out friends, family and alumni in droves. Instead of the average road attendance of five, nearly 400 jammed the Adams sideline with construction of the field’s bleachers yet to be completed.

But the thrill of playing at home in front of fans could not make up for Adams’ mental and physical mistakes, as the Spartans fell to Grand Street Campus, a first-year varsity program, 24-6.

“It’s terrific to finally come home,” said Adams head coach Jerry Weitzen. “This is a team of juniors and sophomores and they’re playing and learning right now. Grand Street played tough, but we made a million mistakes.”

As if Adams (1-4) needed any more motivation, boxer Monte Barrett, ranked No. 10 by the International Boxing Federation in the heavyweight division, spoke to the team at halftime.

Barrett, a former all-city defensive end, was a standout on the Spartans last city championship team in 1987. He was part of that great John Adams football tradition in the 1980s when Weitzen was an assistant coach under Angelo Palumbo and the Spartans won three PSAL titles.

“I told them that every play is a touchdown play, but like Coach Palumbo used to tell me, you have to stay focused,” Barrett said. “I wish I had a field like this when I was playing, but the players make the field, the field doesn’t make the players.”

Barrett played on the old artificial turf field at Adams, which by the mid-1990s was rock-hard with huge chucks of turf missing. The Board of Education condemned the 19-year-old field in 1997. The team has been forced to practice on a dirt field strewn with glass about a mile from the school on Cross Bay Boulevard and board a bus to play all of its games.

“This was terrific. I told my coaching staff at halftime that finally it felt like a real football game with the fan support,” Weitzen said. “Now these kids have something to play for.”

John Adams trailed 8-6 at halftime after Grand Street Campus (2-3) threatened with a first-and-goal from the 4. But the Spartans defense, led by first-year senior defensive end Stanley Petit (four sacks, one solo tackle) who stopped Grand Street’s junior fullback Javon Sistrunk on the goal line on fourth down, held the Wolves without a score.

Whatever momentum the Spartans had when they walked in the locker room was lost on the first play of the third quarter when Leefoon fumbled and Jorge Zambrano recovered for Grand Street on the Spartans’ 38. It was Adams’ second of six turnovers.

“Turnovers, little mistakes here and there,” said Leefoon when asked about the difference in the game. “We just have to learn from our mistakes and come out next game and try and not make the same mistakes.”

After a muffed punt by Cheyne Charles that bounced off the back of teammate Robert Knight from the Adams 18, Grand Street had the ball at the Spartans’ 4 and needed just one play to score, as Sistrunk (16 carries for 117 yards) ran the ball in.

Junior quarterback John Medici, who was anxious to make up for an admittedly poor performance in the Wolves 23-0 loss to Bryant last week, scored on his second two-point conversion to put Grand Street ahead 16-6 with 7:23 left in the third quarter.

“In the beginning, we weren’t getting killed by mental mistakes,” said Grand Street coach Ed Gazzillo. “The line blocked well and we were just giving the ball to No. 20 [Sistrunk], which makes me look like a genius.”

Sistrunk did most of his damage in the first half, where he gobbled up all but 11 of his yards. Following a safety forced by Darnell Hayes that put Grand Street up 2-0, Sistrunk set up the Wolves first touchdown when his 19-yard burst up the middle gave the Wolves a first down at the Spartans 27.

Four plays later, Medici scored on a 16-yard keeper to give Grand Street an 8-0 lead with 1:08 left in the first quarter.

Adams struck right back when Leefoon (19 carries, 155 yards) found a seam down the sideline and scored from 49 yards out. The Spartans were stopped on the two-point conversion and trailed the Wolves 8-6 with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.

Led by Petit, Leefoon (seven solo tackles, seven assisted tackles), Fladell and Rafael Vargas, the Spartans defense did a good job of negating Sistrunk in the second half and getting to Medici. But the turnovers on offense negated the defensive positives.

“I thought we were going to kill Grand Street based on our practice Friday and the fact that they’re a first-year program,” Weitzen said. “But they wanted to win also, and they did.”

Weitzen’s Spartans have one more chance to play on its new field this season when they host Flushing on Oct. 27 at 11 a.m. Adams plays Bryant (3-2) at Flushing Memorial Field Saturday at 11 a.m.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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