It’s Go Time for Gridiron Gang! Somers vs. Yorktown Featured on Opening Day; Mahopac Visits Class AA Champ North Rockland

For millions of football fans across the country, “Go Time” is finally upon us; that time of year when pigskins fly like G6’s and the crash of pads evoke a warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of our guts.

The men will be separated from the boys across the country beginning September 7th, and places likeYorktown and Somers High will flock to local gridirons for Friday’s opening day showdowns. Walter Panas High will play host to the 6:00 p.m. Week 1 matchup between the Huskers and Tuskers; the two Class A hopefuls, in what promises to be an action packed grid campaign.

Yorktown boss Mike Rescigno will lead his Huskers (5-4) and their infamous “Crop” into Pantherland (Yorktown’s home away from home this season while Charlie Murphy field is brought up to spec) to challenge Class A power Somers (6-3) and its legendary Coach Tony DeMatteo.  It will be anything but an ordinary opening day on many levels, as this early-season doozy should have massive implications to an eight-team Class A playoff system down the road.

“We are all very excited for that opening game and are all working very hard,” Somers senior RB Stefano Bicknese said. “We will be ready and it will be a good game for us. We are training hard and we hope to do some damage this year.”

For sure, it will be an early indicator of what to expect on the local Class A scene, which should be the talk of the town in this neck of the woods (northern Westchester/Putnam County), as it could provide the most post-season meaning to those of us following the local Class A football circuit.

“This game means so much to my team and my coaches,” Yorktown TE Christian Dedvukaj said. “Somers is one our biggest rivals and the last time we played Somers we lost.  I know me and my teammates are looking to come out with a big win that day.”

CLASS AA figures to be a very tough act for both rebuilding Mahopac and Carmel this season with just four Class AA teams qualifying for playoffs in 2012, so all eyes could turn to Class A quickly if Coach Tom Donahoe’s Indians (2-7) and Todd Cayea’s Rams (4-4) go south early. Mahopac may have drawn the toughest schedule in all of Section 1 (at reigning champ North Rockland, RCK, at runner-up John Jay-EF, Arlington, former five-time champ New Rochelle, at Clarkstown South, at Carmel), considering its 2011 record and what it returns in 2012. Meanwhile,Carmel was ranked an absurdly low 11th among Class AA clubs and drew the following schedule (Mount Vernon, at Ramapo, at Suffern, Clarkstown North, at Mamaroneck,Scarsdale, Mahopac).

It won’t be easy for either Mahopac or Carmel to qualify for the playoffs this season as perennial powers like No.2 New Rochelle and defending champ North Rockland (No.1) figure to lock up two spots while upstart Dutchess powers like 2011 finalists John Jay EF (No.3) and improving Arlington (No.5) seek the other two spots along with No.4 White Plains and No.6 Clarkstown South.

CLASS B, where two-time reigning champion Croton-Harmon (11-1) andPutnamValley will compete, is another four-team playoff, which makes Coach Matt Mello’s Tigers (6-3) a dark horse for the fourth and final spot.

If the two Class AA powers struggle early, all eyes will turn to Class A where Somers and Yorktown are expected to contend for the championship with explosive John Jay (CR), loaded Harrison,Ryeand defending championPoughkeepsie.Yorktownmoves down to Class A from AA where Rescigno has had a pretty good run the last few years, The combination of QB Nick Mariano to TE Christian Dedvukaj could be one of the section’s most lethal pass-and-catch tandems. Dedvukaj is Section 1’s closest thing to “Gronk”, Patriots record-setting TE Rob Gronkowski.

Somers, on the other hand, will run its way into contention behind the lethal 1-2 combo of shifty TB Stefano Bicknese and beefy FB Joe Lombardo, but don’t sleep on RB Connor Vlatsay or he’ll burn you, too. Somers did lose some key pieces up front (Joe Hanley and Chris Groton) and its two-headed QB (Kevin Cousin and Dylan McGuire), but DeMatteo refuses to let graduation stand in the way of success.

If you saw any of Somers during this pre-season, you can’t help be come away believing that this could be there year. If you’re 6-foot and you want to look these Tuskers in the eye, you best bring a step ladder for the big boys on the block. Somers is as big as this scribe has ever seen them in the 23 years he’s been on the beat.

Circle Friday, Sept.7 on your calendars and we’ll see you on the Panas grid for a 6:00 p.m. kickoff between the Huskers and Tuskers…

PLAYER WATCH/TEAM CAPSULES –

Brain McNeil, QB, Brewster – McNeil, a 6’4”, 195-pound senior signal caller, has flown under the radar for far too long. He has the goods (including a 4.9 40) and the general makeup (3-year starter) to lead the Bears to a significantly more fruitful campaign in 2012. You can ask Somers Coach Tony DeMatteo what he thinks if you see him after seeing McNeil lead Brewster to a 7-3 win over the Tuskers last season. He was impressed. You give this McNeil some weapons and it’s not hard to imagine the Bears (3-5) shocking some folks on the Class A circuit and maybe sneaking into the playoffs under first-year boss Ed Mulvihill. McNeil’s primary weapon of attack, besides his own strong arm and capable legs, will be the legs of senior RB Fernando Solis, who runs with authority and purpose. Senior LBs Ed Schoenig and Chris Leggio were also forces in quality wins over Somers andTappan Zee last year, which gives the Bears something to build on this season.

Brewster’s returning O-line — seniors OL/DL Vincent Nardini and G/LB Eddie Schoenig and powerful junior OL/DL Frank Galinello – should provide ample protection for McNeil, who has the strength to break tackles and fall ahead for extra yards. Galinello is built like a brick house. Nifty RB/DB Liam DaRos is another shifty player with superb athleticism on both sides of the ball for the Bears, who face a slate of games that could produce a top-eight finish and a playoff spot in Class A provided they don’t skip a beat along the way.

“This year is a new year for the Bears,” McNeil said. “With a new head coach, came a new attitude. Upcoming sophomores and juniors saw this as an opportunity to get on the field and they took full advantage of it. Seniors saw this as a threat to their positions, so they stepped up their game to stay on the field. Coach Mulvihill was a huge part of this. Not only did he come in with new ideas, but he made it very easy for us as a team and individuals to understand and pick it up. Hard work got coach Mulvihill here to coach us and hard work on our end will show coach how much we appreciate his time and effort in making this season a success. We are excited to show fans the work we have put in throughout the summer. Keep a lookout because we plan to deliver.”

It been some time since the Bears delivered to the lofty standards of the 1996-’99 (two state final appearances, 3 sectional titles), but don’t sleep on Brewster this fall or they will spoil your plans for victory.

Joey Rodriguez, QB, Carmel – It’s not often you put a freshman in ones Players to Watch capsules, but all eyes in Ram-land will be focused on the greenhorn signal caller with a ton of potential. Skeptics will point out that Rams Coach Todd Cayea is taking a big chance here, but the Rodriguez kid is going to be a good one and Cayea is willing to roll the dice and deal with the issues as they occur. Nobody can predict the future for this kid, but if Cayea says he’s ready, he’s probably good to go. Rodriguez made several tough throws in a recent scrimmage against Somers and looked good in doing so. Whether he has enough weapons around him remains to be seen, as the Rams (4-4) have some question marks at the skill positions that need to be addressed. Senior WRs Dan Behnken, Joe Gervasi and Brian Smith, plus junior Ray Dorritie, are all rangy targets (but essentially unproven) and RB/DB Anthony Bria ran unabashed against Somers. Expect a heavy dose of Bria. Defensively, third-year LB Steven McNerney will be the focus of opposing blockers and the leader on and off the field.

“Our goal this year is to compete in every game,” McNerney said. “Of course we want to make playoffs and beat Mahopac, but really we just want to come out and play hard and intense for four quarters, because last year it seemed people gave up at halftime if we were losing. We want to prove to people that we can play with any team.”

McNerney and the Rams are undeterred by the fact that Rodriguez will be the first freshman to play atCarmelsince Cayea took over back in

“Our freshman, Joey, is making great strides and his confidence is rising every day,” the captain said. “He’s very mature for his age and makes great decisions and I thought it made a huge difference when I explained to him that this is his offense and he’s the leader so I think that hearing from a three-year player that the offense is willing to let him lead made a big difference and made him more comfortable. The kid’s a great competitor and he hates failure.”

The Rams face a very manageable schedule as the 11th-ranked team in Class AA, so don’t be surprised if this well-coached unit posts a 5-6-win season. As always, the Rams have circled one date in particular, their October 20th contest with rival Mahopac, who they defeated last year, 29-13.

Nick Grous, Brian Soars, Trevor Wolstencroft, RBs, Croton – While the fruitful Maniero era may be over at Croton, Coach John “Big Cat” Catano’s two-time defending Section 1 Class B champion Tigers (11-1) are far from through. This trio of backs accounted for 15 TDs, nearly 250 carries and over 1,700 yards last season and two-way linemen like OG Alex Bowser and OG Matt Genneralli, plus TE Pete Miller will return to pave the way.

Junior QB Ben Gelfand is new to the scene but with seniors Soars and Grous and junior Wolstencroft leading the way, Croton is expected to get back to the Class B title game where vastly improved Our Lady of Lourdes is likely to be waiting.  Lourdesis huge but has no significant history on its side, other than the fact that Warriors Coach Brian Walsh is a proven winner at Brewster and John Jay EF. Given the fact that Walsh can now pluck players from all over the Poughkeepsie/Wappingers region, Lourdes is likely to become the next big thing in Class B, so Catano’s Tigers, who defeated Lourdes 7-6 in the regular season and 21-7 in the sectional finals en route to the state finals, will have to saddle up and do it again on September 28th when the two square off in Poughkeepsie in the Class B game of the year.

Connor O’Neill, OT, DT, Lakeland – The Bryant-bound senior captain is looking for pancake block on every play, and the 6’3”, 290-pounder will be the rockLakeland runs behind. Junior RB Jimmy Flaherty and junior QB Brian Prunty will seek the creases alongside O’Neill, who believes the Hornets are poised for big doings.

“We have to take this season one game at a time and not let ourselves become caught up in the hype for big games likeYorktown(Week 5) and just play our football,” O’Neill said. “For right now, we’re shooting for a win opening day, after that to just win this season and hopefully win in the playoffs, too.”

The 6’3” 190-pound Prunty finished the 2011 season with a 300-yard game against Hen Hud.

Look for senior RB Ryan Bonifati coming back and being a real leader for the other skill players like junior Greg Lenane and sophomore Anthony Capozzi to have impactful seasons for the Hornets, who have a lot of juniors and three sophomores in the starting lineup under Coach Rob Cappelli, now in his 13th season atLakeland. The Hornets have a very manageable schedule and hope to be among the top eight teams in Class A in order to qualify.

Somers O-LINE – Where’s the beef? Somers has it. Robert Pontbriand (6-5, 280), Dylan Owen (6-5, 235), Daniel Campbell (6-5, 225) and twins Steven Jennings (6-5, 275) and Sean Jennings (6-5, 270), plus TE Peter Mueller (6-5, 220) average 6’5” across the board. It is by far the largest line in Somers history and it should be able to bully its way up and down the grid. This O-line will toss opposing defenders around while leading the Tuskers into the post season where they will set their sights on the second sectional title in the DeMatteo era (2000).

Both massive and athletic up front, Somers is the truth this season, provided one of three QBs can emerge as the primary signal caller. Junior Tim Cousin, though small in stature, fired a nice ball in a recent scrimmage and appeared to have a leg up at the time.

“They are big, strong and fast and I feel that they are the best core of lineman that Somers has seen in a while,” senior FB Joe Lombardo said.

Cousin, senior John Decker and junior Matt Arita are three legit choices under center, but DeMatteo, who has been known to mix and match QBs in the past, has just days to make his choice.

Stefano Bicknese, RB, Somers – The senior runs with a chip on his shoulder and the O-line before him is massive. It’s hard to imagine a season in which this kid doesn’t push the envelope of a 1,000-yard, 10-TD season. And when opponents key on Bicknese, the Tuskers will unveil versatile Connor Vlasaty, a junior with both power and wiggle to his swag.

Joe Lombardo, FB/LB, Somers — At 6’ and nearly 200 pounds, the senior has a nose for the end zone and the ability to outrace the pack. In a loaded Somers backfield, Lombardo brings the load.

Chris Rhue; QB, Mahopac – Captains Mike Simone, Justin Kelleher and Joe Castellitto have a tough task at hand; to erase the memory of a painful 2-7 season, something that isn’t tolerated in Indian Country. Kelleher and Simone, a pair of competent two-way linemen, will open holes for Castellitto and first-year signal caller Chris Rhue, a converted RB with some shimmy in his game, but he’ll need a whole lot more of that as he takes over under center where Coach Tom Donahoe can maximize his touches.

Nick Russo and Christian Riefenhauser are bullish runners, who should do well between the tackles, and Brendan Hynes, Andrew Marchionni and Brandon Fitzpatrick provide the impetus on defense, but the Indians may have the toughest schedule in the section with which to deal.

Last year, it seemed like everyone got hurt at the same time, so a team that went to the sectional finals in 2010 fell on hard times in 2011?

“Injuries are a part of the game,” Riefenhauser said, “but we all had a lot of fun last year and learned a lot. We learned how important it is to work hard and do your “One Thing”. We will use last year as a learning experience to develop success this year.”

Mahopac craves to be relevant on the Section 1 grid circuit and the current seniors can quickly re-establish that germaneness when the Indians travel to defending championNorth Rocklandon opening day.

Nick Mariano, QB, Yorktown – The UMass-bound Mariano can elude the rush as well as anyone in the section this season, and when he gets in the open field he is dangerous, be it on the roll or in a full sprint. When on the roll, Mariano will sling to TE Christian Dedvukaj, who has some seriously soft hands amidst the seams. Two-way lineman David Varian anchors a well-coached unit up front. FB/LB Connor Vercruysse is a rugged load, who will keep opposing defenses honest as the Huskers look to split the seam between Mariano and Dedvukaj, a legit red zone threat. The vast majority of the starters from last year’s 5-4 team have graduated, leaving 8th-year Coach Mike Rescigno with plenty to learn about the mettle of the youthful newcomers. It’s been said that 1998 was a long time ago, and that’s how long it’s been sinceYorktown won its last sectional title, the fourth crown in six years (1993-‘98), but the program is just two years removed from the Class AA semis.

“We try to emulate their success and we strive to achieve that kind of greatness,” Dedvukaj said of the Huskers, who expect contributions from rookies Eric Morales and lax studs Brian Prestreau and Austin Fusco.

Yorktownmoves from Class AA to A this season and would be a disappointment if it did not make the field of eight playoff teams. Somers will provide a staunch test right out of the gate.

Ricky Kilmer, FB/LB, Putnam Valley – Kilmer, a junior, should have a successful two-year run at PV. A punishing runner and solid blocker, plus an instinctive defender, Kilmer will have an impactful rookie season on both sides of the ball for third-year boss Matt Mello, who hopes to see his Tigers (6-3) continue to turn a corner this season.

What QB Mikey Walsh (5’7”, 145) lacks in size, he makes up for with heart. His primary target could be talented junior 6’3” WR Jelani “Megatron” Bell-Isaac, a diamond in the rough with a world of talent and speed, and WR Steve Carroll is a reliable leader. DT Rahhim Shillingford (6’2”, 285) is drawing interest from D-I Bryant and poses a formidable figure up front. The Tigers have significant size in the trenches, but the question most coaches are wondering about is their nasty streak.

If toughness isn’t an issue,PutValleycould light up its Class B schedule, which includes nobody that finished above .500 last season; including the very Briarcliff team that eked out PV for the fourth and final playoff spot. With continued progressions, PV could make the playoffs for the first time since a 2007 loss toWestlake. Walsh has high hopes.

“Although we’re not a senior-dominated team, we have our goals set as high as we did last year: To bring the sectional title toPutnamValleyfor the first time in school history,” the senior QB said. “We have power up the middle and speed to the outsides and that enables our offense to do a lot of things and forces the defense to stay honest. We bring back a few starters with three years of experience that will help lead this team to the playoffs.”

Will Moss, HB/DB, Haldane – The defending Section 1 Class D champion Blue Devils lost a ton of talent to graduation, leaving Moss as the go-to guy this fall. He and QB/LB Bayley Semple will likely be key determinants to Haldane winning back-to-back championships under second-year coach Jeff Sniffen. Semple was a monster defensively last season and will go both ways again this season. Semple and DE Johnny Giachinta are the driving forces on defense while Moss figures to get the bulk of the touches on offense. The O-line was decimated by graduation, leaving OG/DL Owen Thomas as the lone returning starter. The Blue Devils (8-2) lost more to graduation than most teams did and sustaining last year’s success falls upon the incumbents like TE/DE Ryan Dahlia. Repeating as champs will be tough with Tuckahoe seeking redemption.

The Blue Devils will likely see their toughest test of the season in a Week 1 showdown with reigning Class C champion Dobbs Ferry, the defending NYS champs.

Russell Mylnar, RB/LB, Panas – Chalk up Mylnar, a junior captain, for 10 tackles a game. Nearly a decade ago, Panas had a FB named Frank Gagliardi who bowled dudes over on offense; Mylnar is reminiscent. Defensively, few former Panthers in recent times compares to Mylnar.

He is said to be a coach’s dream and has all the potential in the world and a work ethic to boot.  Panas could live and die by this two-way stud, so be forewarned.

Panas hasn’t done a lot of living lately. The Panthers are coming off yet another sub-par season. In fact, one has to go back to 2004 to recollect a winning season (6-3) in which Panther Pride ran rampant; when cats like Greg Sellazzo, Ryan Sullivan, Alex Goldfarb, Billy Honovich, Chris Totten, Chris Bellantoni were following in the footsteps of guys like Steve Stern, Kyle Pierce, arguably the top QB in Panas history (though some might say Sean Lindsay).

Since their departure, the Panthers have mustered a collective 13 wins over the past seven seasons while piling up 46 losses (3-6, 1-7, 3-5, 3-6, 2-7, 1-7, 0-8). Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure, and the current coaching staff, which includes several former Panas standouts, won’t permit it any longer.

Head Coach Dan Patronik’s staff (former Panthers Chris Totten, Chris Brandt and Steve Stern) and the hierarchy within the athletic department (A.D. Kyle Pierce) are full of former Panthers who lived those glory years. It is their job to will this program back to respect and we saw glimpses of it toward the end of last season.

Panas isn’t going to win Class A this season and will struggle to make the playoffs, but the building blocks for success will be stacked upon Mylnar’s back and teammates like QB Liam Hagens, WR/CB Jimmy Jackson, OL/DL Marc Jones, HB/LB Anthony Conti and FB/LB John Brophy, who will help provide Panas a warpath on which to roam. The O-line – including OGJesse Czuy, OT Mike Dejesus, C Eric Reyes and OG Thomas Guzzo – are all experienced veterans, so we’re expecting a .500 or bust season.

Joe Fraietta, Ed Tandy, QBs, Hen Hud – Both senior signal callers will log plenty of time, be it at QB or somewhere else on the field due to their superior athleticism. Fraietta has his sights set on a 1,000-yard season on the ground and has taken a liking to WR Josh Kraft, a speedy transfer from WI. Like neighboring Panas, Hen Hud (4-5) hasn’t had many winning seasons of late. Former Coach Paul Natale has left the program in the hands of capable assistant Mike Lynch, who has been groomed to succeed Coach Nate for several years. In junior HB/LB Justin Fischer, OL/DL Ben Schwartz and OL/LB Peter Pinque, Lynch has a nucleus to build upon, but depth has been as issue at Hen Hud for several years running. His up-tempo system and shot-gun offense can wear on linemen in particular, but the schedule is manageable and the Sailors look like a team on the up-tick so long as the O-line can stay healthy.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: 2011 runner-up John Jay CR (8-2) will get back to the Class A finals and could finally seal the deal under 12th-year veteran Coach Jimmy Clark, who is 0-4 in championship game settings. This team is loaded at the skill positions with the most lethal passing combination we’ve seen in these parts in years in QB-WR tandem Tyler Keech and Jack Lambert, who swap seamlessly at QB-WR. The RB combination of Andrew Duffy, soph Vince Foti and Brandon Lee will have to be honored though for the Keech-to-Lambert deal to truly flourish. Don’t be surprised if John Jay and Somers are eyeballing one another in the Class A semis or finals this November?…

Hen Hud (4-5) has a new coach in Mike Lynch, who transitions in for former boss Paul Natale. Expect Lynch to ride rugged QB Joe Fraietta, who, we are told, could become the first Sailor to rush for 1,000 yards since Rich “Guz Dozer” Guzi (1989)…

Brewster (3-5) impressed in a 7-3 win over Somers last season and has some skill position players in Solis and McNeil returning. The duo did the bulk of the damage against the Tuskers. The Class A Bears could surprise some…

Don’t be shocked ifLakelandis 4-0 heading into Week 5 showdown with neighboringYorktown, but it could just as easily be 2-2 if skill players don’t pan out behind massive OT/DT Connor O’Neill. The Huskers will be looking to maintain their “We-Own-This-Town” mentality cultivated by former Coach Ron Santavicca, who led the Huskers to back-to-back state titles (1993-94)…

Anyone else get the feeling that Our Lady of Lourdes will become the first Catholic school to dominate in Section 1 while becoming a perennial force under Coach Walsh, who built Brewster into a statewide powerhouse in the ’90s and turned John Jay EF around prior to his exit after the 2010 season? It’s just a gut feeling, but a strong one so long as Walsh is around.

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