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Reigning NYS Champ Carmel Ousted in OT; Westlake Denied by O’Neill
By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays, and Andy Jacobs
Football is the fabric that weaves our communities together each and every fall. Win, lose or draw, very few things bring folks together like the autumnal bond of Friday Night Lights and/or weekends at the gridiron and tailgates in the lot. Our communities were blessed to reap the benefits of four Section 1 football championships in the Examiner-area last week and a pair of those programs – Class A Somers and Class B Pleasantville – survived and advanced to the NYSPHSAA Final 4 while reigning NYS Class AA champ Carmel and Class C Westlake were not so lucky. Nonetheless, these football programs, along with many others in Section 1, did their best to forge a football bond that some will take to their grave #FootballIsLife.
Last week, after winning his second consecutive Section 1 Class A grid title, SOMERS Coach Anthony DeMatteo uttered these words: “Defense is really what we hang our hat on. The offense has been super explosive but defense is really our identity.”
So this week, on a chilly Friday night at Middletown High School’s Faller Field, those words served as poetic justice when – with Section 9 champ Our Lady of Lourdes facing a fourth-and-3 at the 13-yard line in overtime – Somers DE Stefan Swee chucked a blocker and went into chase mode toward the Tusker sideline, eventually combining with DB Luke Kennedy for the game-saving tackle, which preserved a 35-28 NYSPHSAA regional title victory after Tusker QB Matt Fitzsimons scored from a yard out on Somers’ first OT possession.
“Once Fitz scored we knew we weren’t going home tonight without the win,” said Kennedy, a senior who sticks his cage into every play possible. “Everyone gave everything they had and it paid off. When we needed a stop, everyone came up big and did what they were supposed to do.”
If it weren’t for some late-game folly, the state-ranked (No.1) Tuskers (11-0) would have been on the bus 30 minutes sooner, but Lourdes erased a 14-point deficit late in the fourth quarter, scoring two TDs within two minutes – thanks to a botched Somers punt and the Warriors inducing a successful on-sides kick – to force overtime. But the Tuskers responded in the extra session when senior Fitzsimons plowed in from a yard out, earning a berth to Friday’s (6 pm) state semifinals against 16th-ranked Section 2 champ Niskayuna right back at Faller Field. The winner will move on to the state finals, Saturday, Dec. 3rd (3 p.m.) against the winner of eighth-ranked Section 4 Union-Endicott and/or the winner of Monday’s sixth-ranked Section 6 champ Jamestown vs. No.9 Section 5 champ Hilton survivor (that game was pushed back to Monday after six feet of snow in the region).
“Anything can happen in the playoffs,” Coach DeMatteo said. “Kids played hard and we got it done. I was annoyed they moved the ball the way they did in spots, but they were very good up front. We played great D when it mattered.”
Fitzsimons (18 of 30 for 257 yards) also dialed up a pivotal 46-yard TD pass to senior RB Ravi Dass Jr. (7 catches, 87 yards), his third score of the game, which gave the Tuskers a 28-14 lead. The dynamic duo missed on a couple of bombs earlier but were in synch much of the night, connecting on three TD passes from 46, 19 and five yards out.
“Oh yeah, we feeling good,” Fitzsimons admitted. “Ravi and I slightly missed (previously), but we knew we would connect. Gotta forget and keep grinding. Big shout out to line on both sides of the ball for stepping up. Love this team and we are gonna keep it rolling.”
The Tuskers were without the heart and soul of their offensive and defensive line as Navy-bound senior Jake Polito (shoulder) sat this one out. The Tuskers missed his presence along the interior of both lines, but their next-man-up mentality prevailed for the most part.
“We are still good up front but Lourdes was solid,” DeMatteo said. “We really missed Polito and hope to have him back next week.”
Somers RB Luke Savino normally finds bigger holes than he did Friday, but he finished with a polished 50-yard TD trot off right end and 63 yards on nine carries. He was also 5-of-5 on PATs and continues to serve as a Swiss army knife.
Tusker DL George Forbes was an absolute menace, leading the defense with 15 tackles. Kennedy added 11 sticks and DL Ryan Cole had nine, two for a loss, and a sack. Mac Sullivan, Nick Newman and Nick Crecco each had seven tackles for the Tuskers, who are in search of their second NYS (2016) title after losing in the state finals last year.
PLEASANTVILLE played its finest game of the year, eliminating Section 9 champion Port Jervis, 33-7, in the NYSPHSAA Class B quarterfinals at Arlington High School Friday afternoon.
The state-ranked (No.4) Panthers (11-0) rushed for more than 400 yards as a team, All-NYS WR/RB Daniel Picart going for half of that. Picart finished with 201 yards on 21 totes while spotting the Panthers a three-TD lead before state-ranked (No.10) Port Jervis (10-2) knew what hit them. The junior DB also starred on defense, picking up a sack and two picks, further maximizing his legacy as an all-time Section 1 great.
“We are just having fun and executing the game plan the coaches are putting into place,” said Picart, who owns the Pleasantville record book with over 5,000 all-purpose yards and 52 career TDs, seventh-most in Section 1 history. “The hard work all season is paying off and the team seems to be clicking on all cylinders. Our mantra all season was ‘one game at a time’ and that’s what we’re doing.”
Pleasantville will face Section 2 champion Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, ranked No.11 in NYS, Saturday at 3 p.m. at Middletown High School in the NYS Final 4 with a berth for the state finals at the Syracuse JMA Wireless Dome on the line against the survivor of the Section 4 Maine-Endwell vs. Section 6 Iroquois/Section 5 Batavia (Monday 6 pm) winner. The state finals are slated to kick off Sunday, Dec. 4 at noon.
Port Jervis, the four-time defending Section 9 champs, could do little, if anything, against a P’Ville club that faced some serious adversity in last week’s sectional title win over Byram Hills.
How much of a difference was it for the Panthers Friday after last week’s big scare from the Bobcats?
“Huge, night and day,” Panther Coach Tony Becerra said. “We asked the kids to dominate and they did. We asked them to play smart and they did. It was just a complete game, start to finish from every player and every coach.”
Up 15-0 at the half, the Panthers scored on their first play of the third quarter when Picart rambled in from 70 yards out before converting his second two-point conversion, completely deflating Port Jervis.
“You know, we would’ve been happy with an eight-, 10-, 12-play drive and salt some clock, and score,” Coach Becerra said. “I really didn’t expect it on the first play, but then you can’t say that when you talk about number 10 (Picart). Yeah, a little bit (it broke their backs with that TD). But the way they throw the ball, they had big-play potential, so you always have to watch out for that. Listen, we didn’t want to be in the situation we were in with them last year (game-winning field goal in the final seconds). We didn’t want to be in the situation we were in last week, either. And we weren’t. That’s a relief, for sure. I think coming out of that game (the dramatic win over Byram Hills), collectively, we all took a breath and realized, this season, you can’t take it for granted, so when the opportunity comes, just relish it and take advantage of it.”
The Pville O-line of Thomas Cahill, Joe Reich, Ethan Taboh, Cooper Kittsley, Joe Alesawy, Chad Saragganonda, Bryson Williams, Fitzy Byrne, Lucas Malgarinos and Owen Mooney controlled the line of scrimmage in the second half. A 22-yard field goal by Joe Sokich with 7:45 to go gave the Panthers a 33-0 lead.
Panther RB Erik Coleman (5 carries, 53 yards) took a reverse untouched 26 yards for a 30-0 Pleasantville lead with under four minutes left in the third. Panther FB Louis Sdao, just a sophomore, took pressure off Picart by adding 111 yards rushing on just eight carries in a punishing performance.
The game turned on a dime, over and over again. State-ranked (No.4) CARMEL was defending its goal line midway through the first quarter, backed down to their 10-yard line, when Ram DB/RB Nick Rosaforte went 90 yards in the other direction for a pick-six and a game-changing play that few players in NYS can make. Just moments later, Rosaforte took another pick-six 21 yards for a 13-0 lead at 5:49 before the half.
The All-NYS senior, who has been the best two-way player in every game this season, had turned the tide in Carmel’s favor for what looked like a sure win. However, things went awry from that point forward en route to Section 9 champion Newburgh Free Academy’s 26-20 come-from-behind overtime win in the NYSPHSAA Class AA regional quarterfinals Saturday at Faller Field on the campus of Middletown High School. NFA, ranked No.19 in NYS, will take on fifth-ranked Section 2 champion Christian Brothers Academy Saturday (6 pm) at Faller Field in the state semis. The Rams, shockingly, finished at 10-1.
“Well, perception is always unfortunate because we were not the same team as last year, but these kids created their own legacy and won back-to-back sectional titles, which is extremely hard to do,” said Carmel’s three-time Section 1 champion Coach Todd Cayea. “I think only New Rochelle has done that since the 1993 state tournament began. Newburgh was the better team, but I am extremely proud of our team and their accomplishments.”
Down two TDs, NFA (9-2) answered quickly when QB Mason Hoover found Jashon Thomas, who rambled 65 yards for a score at 5:34 of the second quarter to make it 13-7, Rams. NFA RB Deondre Johnson then plowed in from a yard out to make it 13-all at the half.
NFA threatened to take a third-quarter lead when Hoover found Elijah Bevier for a perceived 52-yard score, but the referees conferred and said he was stripped going into the end zone as the ball bounded over the end line for a touchback, Carmel ball.
The Rams could get nothing going offensively, and Hoover found Bevier for a 41-yard completion before Darryl Jackson found paydirt from the four with 3:56 left in the third for a 20-13 Goldbacks lead.
Rosaforte’s third INT at the Carmel five then halted yet another potential NFA scoring drive. Trailing by seven, with everything on the line, Carmel took over at its own 37 with 8:43 left in the fourth. At which point Carmel QB Matt Gay found WR Ryan Aabel for hookups of 12 and 41 yards to set up first and goal at NFA one-yard line with 7:04 to go. After a Ram time out, Rosaforte plowed to paydirt to stage a 20-20 tie after Jared Navidad’s PAT with 6:32 left.
It was at this point when any coach in NYS was left longing for a player of Rosafiorte’s ilk. His third TD of the game fueled hope along the vibrant Carmel sideline.
The Goldbacks then advanced to the Carmel 26 and went for a 42-yard field goal – into a gusting wind – with 2:04 left, and missed. Carmel did nothing within the final two minutes and overtime ensued.
That’s where it all went wrong for the Rams. Johnson tipped a Gay pass and picked it off, providing NFA with a chance to win, which it accepted when Johnson went Wildcat and strolled to paydirt for the winning score, ending Carmel’s reign as state champs and its 26-game winning streak, thus concluding thre single greatest stretch of football in Putnam County history.
“We just couldn’t get anything going on offense and we were just killing ourselves,” said Carmel OL/DL Owen Boland, one of the best in Carmel history. “Whether it was drive-killing penalties, our quarterback and receivers not connecting, and even up front we have been dominant all season on the line of scrimmage, but we did not show up last night like we usually do. Newburgh is a good team and sometimes things just don’t go your way and that’s just the way it is sometimes. But we know we tried our best and I’m so proud of this team for an incredible season, and I know there’s some studs in the grade below us and I know they’ll be right back in it next year.”
WESTLAKE, ranked No.12 in NYS, had no answers for fifth-ranked Section 9 champion James I. O’Neill (10-2) Saturday in the NYSPHSAA Class C regional where the Wildcats (9-3) were blown out, 38-6, Saturday afternoon at Middletown High. From the jump, O’Neill had its way, taking a 14-0 lead after the first quarter before taking a 17-0 lead into the break. Whether O’Neill was methodically working its way down field, or quick-striking on a third-quarter 58-yard punt return to the house by Marek Arbogast (his 2nd TD of the day), Coach John Castellano’s youthful Wildcats were overmatched by a team that gave Dobbs Ferry fits in last year’s regionals before losing a close one.
“O’Neill was a really good football team, big and fast, but we also didn’t play a good game at all on both sides of the ball,” Westlake junior RB/DB Christoper Kalle said. “Could be because we still have a young team. At the end of the day they were just a really good football team.”
And the Wildcats would need to bring their A-game, something they didn’t do.
“We didn’t play well,” Coach Castellano said. “As good as we played last Saturday, that’s as bad as we played today. But my hat’s off to that football team. They’re very good. They’ve got a back that you have to be able to control, and if you load the box they’re gonna throw it. So you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. They’ve got everything you need to run that package.”
Westlake got off on the wrong foot, having a punt blocked, which set up a short field for O’Neill.
“You don’t like to see that,” Coach Castellano said of the blocked punt on the Wildcats’ first possession. “Hey, listen, I don’t know if that really made a difference. Defensively, we talked about giving them all the short stuff, rallying to the football, don’t get beat over the top. Make them go on 12-, 14-play drives. And we did that a couple times. And then when we rallied to the football, the kid made us miss. They’re much more athletic than I thought, much more athletic than us. But I think where I’m really surprised is defensively. I’m not even sure, and I’ve got to go back and look at the film, if there was a rhyme or reason to what they were doing defensively. They were blitzing on every play. They weren’t even lined up sometimes.
And that’s the worst thing because when you’re working with your kids and you say, ‘OK, this kid’s gonna be here, that kid’s gonna be there, that kid’s gonna be there, block them’ and then all of a sudden one kid’s running over from the top; he’s not even in a stance. Do I block that kid or not? You know, it’s tough. I think their game plan defensively, they knew they couldn’t stop us or they thought they couldn’t stop us, so they blitzed on every play. EVERY play they blitzed.
But, listen, I’ve been in this business a long time and you just kind of know when you just don’t have it,” the coach added. “We thought at 17-0 if we could make a stop and score and score, well then maybe. But once they went up 24, you just know you can’t do anything. Listen, I thought we did a tremendous job of rebounding from 2-2, and I thought we played Dobbs as good a football game as you could play last week. And, again, for some reason, we didn’t come out with that same firepower, I don’t’ know. Maybe it’s the type of offense that we can get in the box with you and play. You want to go nine on nine, eight on eight in the box, we’re good. You start spreading us out, we’ve got a problem.”
Ray has 33 years experience covering and photographing local sports in Westchester and Putnam counties, including everything from Little League/Travel Baseball to varsity high school prep sports and collegiate coverage. He has been a sports editor at Examiner Media since its inception in 2007.