News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
MAHOPAC – The rain held off for Friday morning’s Class D championship but the Class A final was played amidst a steady rain at Mahopac High where two blowouts prevailed, but the sun shone bright Saturday and temps were very mild when conditions were ripe for top-notch football in the Class C, B and AA championships. And, boy oh boy, Section 1 delivered.
As always, hats off to the Mahopac Touchdown Club and the entire Mahopac football outfit for providing a superb venue. If this was, indeed, Mahopac’s swan song (it has been rumored that newly renovated Memorial Stadium in Mt. Vernon will play host in 2023), Mahopac’s – environment, concessions and accommodations will be hard to match. Thanks from all of us for providing a professional venue. Here’s some of what we saw on the grid.
One would be hard-pressed to recall a better title tilt in the last decade or so after watching reigning NYSPHSAA champion CARMEL (10-0) fend off a truly incredible back-and-forth fight from Mamaroneck in the state-ranked (No.4) Rams’ 31-28 win over the 16th-ranked Tigers (9-1) in the last of five championship bouts Saturday night.
In a game that had no quit in it, Carmel won its 26th-straight game and will face Section 9 champion Newburgh Free Academy (ranked No.22 in NYS) Saturday at 3:00 p.m. in the opening round of the state tournament at Middletown High School.
More than once, Mamaroneck (9-1) had the undefeated Rams (10-0) on the ropes (Carmel trailed by four, 28-24, with 7:30 to play), but Carmel took its best shots and produced a momentum-changing, third-quarter pick-6 by Jeremy Smith, and then capped a game-winning drive with a 36-yard TD strike by QB Matt Gay to WR Chris Nerys for the final margin.
With one last crack, Mamaroneck heaved a deep one that fell, fittingly, into the arms of Carmel DB/RB Nick Rosaforte, the best two-way player on the field in every game this season.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached, period,” Carmel Coach Todd Cayea said of his senior captain, who finished with 174 yards and a first-half touchdown on 22 totes, many from the Wildcat formation. “He’s unbelievable and has the heart of a champion. He’s a pleasure to coach but as I told him after the game, ’You’re a great football player but you’re an even better person than you are a player’, and that’s saying something.”
“Mamaroneck was a gritty, tough team,” Coach Cayea said of the Tigers, who saw explosive RB Damari Hamilton take five first-half carries for 121 yards and two long TDs. “They did a great job over there. It’s too bad somebody had to lose this game. Both teams played their butts off. They broke those two big long runs off us early when we had some confusion with some calls and they caught us, but I thought our defense played outstanding in the second half. Smith’s interception changed momentum, but then they came back and scored again. Matt Gay then made a great play to Nerys on the bender route for the TD. Great throw, great catch and we won it.”
Gay finished with 149 yards on 10 completions for two TDs, including one to Damien Satiago (4 grabs, 47 yards) and another huge gain to a leaping Jake Storen for 41 yards to set up a critical 32-yard field goal by Jared Navidad just before the half.
“I’m just so proud of how we never let them get in our head when they took those leads,” Rosarforte said. “We just kept playing our game and battled to the end. Chris Nerys came up huge for us. Our defense got a late pick and we had a defensive touchdown, which was huge. We got some turnovers and our offense was able to pound it in.
“This is one of the greatest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Rosaforte added. “Obviously, last year was a great feeling, but tonight, me being a senior now, was amazing, and now we have the opportunity to keep on playing.”
Rosaforte admits his O-Line is the reason for his success, but you can bet your last dollar the O-Line – led by senior Owen Boland – will go all out for their standout back.
“You know, we go to work each day,” Boland said, “and it’s a grind, but Rosey is a hell of a player and we love to open things up for him and the rest of our backs. We made some mistakes tonight, but we’re going to fix them up and come back better next week. This was one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in. I’ve never been in a game this close in my three years on varsity, and to come out on top is amazing. Mamaroneck was a hell of a team. I have not seen a team that good in a while. In the end, Coach Cayea always says it comes down to the team that makes the least mistakes, and tonight we made the least mistakes and won the game.”
Been that way for two-plus seasons now.
They throw the phrase “Cheat Code” around a lot these days, but SOMERS senior FB Luke Savino’s act was so redonkulous that a higher power must have programmed his performance in the Tuskers’ 45-13 Section 1 Class A title win over Rye on a rainy Friday afternoon.
Savino, who rushed for 227 yards and four TDs, ignited a stretch of 38 unanswered points to erase a 7-0 deficit and provide Coach Anthony DeMatteo’s state-ranked (No.1) Tuskers (10-0) their third-straight sectional title, including the 2020 spring title (Covid-induced).
Savino’s six extra points and 24-yard field goal added to his total of 33 points, helping the Tuskers nab their sixth sectional title since 2012, seventh since 2000.
“I played with a chip on my shoulder,” Savino admitted. “Our coaches and players get me fired up for the game. I ended up showing out but all the credit goes to my coaches and teammates and our scouts, who are incredible in practice. We couldn’t do it without them.”
Still, Savino looked to punish on every attempt, including an array of stiff arms and bull runs.
“I love contact,” said the Division I recruit, who has offers to kick for West Virginia, New Hampshire and Marist, (7). “I don’t want to be looked at as just a kicker, I want to be a running back, too, and I love contact. That’s just my thing and if there’s contact to be made I’ll try to go through it. Our practice habits are pristine and we played amazing in this game. If we continue those practice habits, we hope to make it back to the dome this year.”
State-ranked (No.13) Rye (9-2), which Somers had to fend off twice last postseason, including the sectional final and NYS semis, scored on its first play from scrimmage, WR Rafferty McSweeney going 80 yards off a deflected pass. From that point forward, though, it was all Somers.
“We just stuck to the game plan,” said Coach DeMatteo, now 22-1 since taking the reins from his dad. “I thought Rye’s kids came out and played really hard, which is what we expected. Rye is a storied program, and we thought this was going to be a war and it was early until we started to break it open. Our kids saw what was ahead of them and put Rye away.”
On both sides of the ball, the Somers offensive and defensive lines were a force the Garnets could not match.
“Our offensive line was the reason we went out and sought games against teams like Greenwich and St. Francis,” Coach DeMatteo said. “Specifically Jake (Polito) but we roll six or seven guys around Jake. They’re all college football players in my opinion. And because of the offensive line you see guys like Savino and Ravi (Dass) and Matt (Fitzsimons) doing great things, but our offensive line is the soul of our team. Our defensive philosophy is something that I inherited from my father (Hall of Fame Coach Tony DeMatteo). That’s really what we hang our hat on. The offense has been super explosive but defense is really our identity.
“Savino is our workhorse when we need it,” the coach said of the likely-DI-Bound kicker, who had seven touchbacks on seven kicks, including one that split the uprights. “We kept him fresh so he could run hard late in the season. That’s what we decided to do with him.”
The aforementioned defensive identity was provided by DL Ryan Cole (8 tackles, 2 sacks), George Forbes (5 tackles, 1 for loss) and Luke Kennedy (who added a sack and four tackles on defense (2 for loss).
Somers, the 2021 NYS runner-ups, won its 25th-straight game against Section 1 foes, a streak that dates back to the 2020 spring season. The Tuskers advanced to the NYSPHSAA tournament for the third time since 2016 when Somers was crowned state champs. They’ll face a familiar opponent Friday (6 pm) in ninth-ranked Section 9 champ Our Lady of Lourdes, which beat No.8 Cornwall, 8-7, to win its first Section 9 title after playing for decades in Section 1.
“We stayed composed, had no worries, even after Rye broke that first big one,” said Tusker QB Matt Fitzsimons, who completed 5 of passes for 47 yards and two TD strikes to Ravi Dass Jr. and Kennedy. “Our O-line is the best in the section, I say it every day. Every time Savino got the ball, I got excited thinking he was gonna bust it. We just expect to chase him to the end zone to celebrate. We got Lourdes next so we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves.”
Lourdes was a streaky squad the last 5-10 years in Section 1, but if size matters the Warriors will provide some issues.
“They are very big up front,” Coach D said. “They are much improved from last year and the QB is a very good athlete.”
State-ranked (No.5) PLEASANTVILLE and No.10 BYRAM HILLS prepped each other for the rigors of the NYSPHSAA tournament in a game that will only help push this rivalry to the limits. It was, essentially, a broken play that led Coach Tony Becerra’s top-seeded Panthers (10-0) to a 27-20 Class B title triumph over the second-seeded Bobcats (9-2) on an absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon.
In the Wildcat-formation that Panther fans were clamoring for, Panther Daniel Picart, who rushed the Panthers into scoring position, pitched to his brother, Aiden, who fired an end-around pass to Owen Money for the game-winning touchdown despite the play not going as practiced.
“I told Daniel back in Pleasantville that he better get a good warm-up and a good stretch in because you’re going to get a lot of touches tonight,” Coach Beceerra said. “I had a feeling based on how they played us last time he was going to have to carry us on his back and he did just that. Fortunately, for us, we have him for another year. The book’s not closed on him yet but he’s already been the Class B Player of the Year as a sophomore, so the sky’s the limit for him.”
Pleasantville junior RB/QB/WR/DB – Mr. Everything – Daniel Picart put the Panthers on top, 7-0, early in the first quarter, pushing home the first of his two TD runs off 30 carries for 203 yards. He added a TD catch in yet another MVP performance.
“Honestly, it’s kind of what we practice for during the work week,” Daniel Picart said of the insane finish. “We focus on the last quarter, we preach fourth-quarter football, out-conditioning other teams. We know that if it’s a stalemate we can count on that fourth quarter, not that we want to count on that as our wild card. We want to come out firing but today we didn’t do our best at that, so we ended up out-conditioning them in the end, but they were a great team.
“The Wildcat was amazing today, knowing what our hogs can do up front,” Picart added. “They are an amazing group of guys, who put in the most work I’ve seen guys put in. We work on everything so we’re not in Hail-Mary situations. I just try to do whatever my coach needs me to do, whether it’s the start of the game or the end of the game.”
Byram drove the length of the field on the ensuing drive. On first and goal, a halfback option pass from Luke Weiler to Luca Scali brought the Bobcats to the 8-yard line. Bobcat RB Gavin Javorsky went backwards to the 10 before QB Jon Accurso found Sean Siegel for a 10-yard scoring strike at 1:32 of the first, the PAT tied it at 7-all.
Daniel Picart then snared a swing pass from his brother, QB Aidan Picart (9 of 12 for 100 yards and the two touchdowns), fired up a stiff arm and scooted in from 23 yards out with 4:11 remaining in the half for a 14-7 lead after the PAT.
WR Luke Weiler struck vertically from that point, getting ahead for a 47-yard grab to the Panther 34 where Tyler Marescot hauled in a 34-yard TD grab to cap a remarkable three-play drive at 2:49 of the second to tie the score at 14 #GameOn!
While the Bobcats came up short of their goals, there was plenty to be proud of this season.
“I am fiercely proud of our guys and their efforts all season,” Byram Coach Simon Berk said. “Pleasantville is a dangerous combination of size, talent and experienced coaching.”
Accurso hit on 16 of 32 passes for 232 yards, including three TD strikes. Byram WR Sean Siegel was a nightmare mismatch all day, hauling in eight catches for 81 yards. Marescot, who snared a 34-yard TD pass, had 79 yards of offense, including a fake punt that caught P’Ville by surprise and set up Byram’s initial score.
“Oh, my God, the game plan they came in with and executed we were kind of shocked,” Coach Becerra admitted. “They threw some punches at us. Sometimes when you go to states, the toughest part is getting out of Section 1 and that rang true tonight.”
Pleasantville’s defense was up to the task, led by Michael Hundzynski, who had two interceptions, including the game-sealing pick in end zone on the final play of the game. Brian McPhee added a clutch fourth-quarter pick.
The Panthers will now prepare for Section 9 champ Port Jervis (ranked No.19 in NYS), which they defeated last year on a last-second field goal in the state quarters, for a 4 p.m. kickoff on Friday at Arlington High School.
Most folks figured state-ranked (No.12) WESTLAKE would find a way to give No.3 Dobbs Ferry all it could handle in Saturday’s sectional final before the then-defending Section 1 champion Eagles (8-2) would eventually advance to the state tournament for the 12th time since 2001.
But veteran Wildcat Coach John Castellano – among the best in Section 1 history – unleashed junior HB Christopher Kalle, who made mincemeat of the Eagles’ vaunted defense in a 46-14 Westlake triumph, its first sectional title since 2015.
Kalle, who transferred in from Kennedy Catholic this season, went for career-highs in touchdowns (3), rushing yards (177) and attempts (17) to ignite a ground game that amassed close to 350 yards and stunned the partisan Dobbs faithful.
“I felt like we knew we were the better team coming into this and we just had to execute our game plan,” Kalle admitted. “That’s what we did and they weren’t able to stop us all game. I gotta give it up to my blockers, that O-line did a great job sealing that edge for me so I could get outside where I saw nothing but green. The last time we won the section was my brother’s team in 2015, so this feels great. We wanted this so bad after not having the best year last year. We got more ahead of us, though.”
DB Rafeal Savino then grabbed a self-induced Dobbs Ferry fumble and provided the ’Cats with a short field at the Dobbs 37. Kalle then took consecutive rushes and gashed the Eagle defense all the way to the Dobbs 17, forcing a Dobbs timeout at 7:11 of the second. The Wildcats went for it on 4th-and-5 from the 12 where the drive continued on the conversion to the seven. A holding call on second down pushed Westlake back to the 19, but a dinged-up Kalle, undaunted, flushed a counter to the house for an 18-7 lead with 4:12 to go before the half.
The Eagles tried to go up top on the ensuing drive and the Wildcats (8-2) picked them off deep in Westlake territory. Kalle was winning and spinning all the way to the Eagles’ 21 with :24 left before the half. Wildcat Nicholas Castellano then snared a 19-yard TD grab from QB Michael Pagan with :08 left in the half for a 25-7 lead when the Wildcats finally converted a PAT and went to the half in total domination.
“I thought they took it to us early, but we’ve been focused ever since that first game,
that first time we got beat by them,” Coach Castellano said. “I gotta tell you, they beat us, but we didn’t punt in that game. We had six possessions, three we gave up on turnovers, and I think that changed a little bit today. They turned the ball over, we didn’t. We knew if we played a clean game, we’d be in good shape.”
It didn’t look that way after Dobbs marched the length of the field for a 7-0 lead while taking up most of the first quarter, capped by a Brian Dann TD. The Wildcats licked those wounds quickly and responded when RB Christian Knapp, on a gimpy ankle, scooted 44 yards for a touchdown just before the end of the first quarter to cut Dobbs’ lead to 7-6, and it was FB Justin Occhipiniti who provided a second-quarter spark for the Wildcats, who then took a 12-7 lead at 8:23 when Kalle cashed in on paydirt from 15 yards out.
“I thought the key to the game was, after they punched it in, we responded right away,” Castellano said. “I mean, if we had gone three and out and punted, it might’ve been a long day. But as soon as we responded, I knew they couldn’t stop us. We kind of figured at halftime, we knew the first drive of the third quarter was critical. And we put that in to go up by four scores, and then I said, ‘This is not a team that throws the ball. So they’re gonna have to pound it.’ They’re not a come-from-behind team. We aren’t either, to be honest with you.”
Scoring just before halftime was huge for Westlake, as it added to the notion that it would be tough for Dobbs, a team that rushes the ball more than 90% of the time, to come back.
“I thought that was a big drive for us,” Castelanno said. “We went 94 yards in three minutes. We went on a little bit of racehorse. I thought we did a pretty good job. The kids handled it well. Pagan extended the play for us and caught the kid in the corner of the end zone, which
Even bigger was putting up 46 points on a Dobbs Ferry outfit that hasn’t hemorrhaged points like they did Saturday since allowing 33 in a Week 2 loss to Tuckahoe.
“I wouldn’t have thought that would happen,” Castellano admitted. “Offensively, we’re pretty good. I knew that, and I thought the key to the game was after they scored we came back in five or six plays and put it in the end zone. That felt like they couldn’t stop us there. So all we had to do is shore ourselves up a little bit defensively and then I knew we could move the ball. And the turnovers helped too, obviously.Listen, we averaged 34 points a game this year. And in Wing-T, that’s pretty damn good. That goes to show you we can spread it out. All the halfbacks can run. The fullback is a tough son of a gun. The quarterback can throw. We’ve got some talented kids and our offensive line played awesome today. I thought after the first drive, where I thought they owned the trenches, we came back and took over the game in the trenches.”
From this point on, Coach Castellano wants his team to address a more aggressive defensive mentality in the state playoffs where the Wildcats will face eighth-ranked Section 9 champion O’Neil Saturday (noon) at Middletown High School.
“This year, for some reason, we’ve always had a swagger offensively,” he said. “But we’ve had to develop a swagger defensively, which I think we have in the last four or five games. But offensively, from Day One, even against Tuckahoe when we got beat 35-32, listen man, they were young then and they still, offensively, were able to move the ball on a regular basis. And then it’s just a matter of building on that. I thought offensively we’ve always had our chest out a little bit. Defensively is where we needed to catch up and I thought we did that today.”
And then some.
HALDANE had a chance to cut a three-TD deficit to two touchdowns with just under eight minutes to go before the half, and Blue Devil junior RB Evan Giachinta did just that with 7:43 left in the second, plowing in from two yards out to make 28-13. That was as close as Haldane would get as state-ranked (No.3) Tuckahoe (9-0) worked a methodical 47-20 triumph in the Section 1 Class D championship game Friday morning.
In need of a big stop on the ensuing kick, Haldane gave Tuckahoe a short field to work with, the Tigers taking over at the Haldane 46. Several big chunk plays from Tiger RB Jason Smith (132 yards and three TDs on eight carries) led the Tigers inside the 25, but the Blue Devils held firm when Haldane CB Michael Murry made a diving deflection in the end zone and Giachinta forced a fourth down. Those two great defensive plays were followed by DB Brody Corless stopping the drive when he blew up a bubble screen to turn the Tigers over on downs. It was, in reality, Haldane’s best shot at an improbable comeback.
But the Blue Devils went backwards on the ensuing possession and the Tigers took over at the Blue Devil 15 after a long punt return, which led to Jake Matarazzo’s second TD catch from seven yards out with 2:54 before the break for a 34-13 lead.
Matarazzo’s third TD of the half with 11 seconds left in the second quarter spotted the Tigers a 41-13 lead at the intermission, and the undermanned Blue Devils were doomed as Matarazzo and QB Michael Annunziata proved an unstoppable connection. Haldane was unable to match the Tigers’ scoring proficiency like they did last year in Tuckahoe’s 48-40 title win over the Blue Devils.
Giachinta, who rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, in addition to snaring three passes for 50 yards, to go with an electrifying 85-yard kick return to paydirt, highlights a formidable junior class that Blue Devil Coach Ryan McConville is very high on for the 2023 campaign.
“One of the biggest things we preach is competition and our guys hung in there and kept trying to make plays the entire game,” McConville said. “We look forward to watching our guys compete in the winter and spring and hitting the weight room. We believe we have some very talented guys returning and we’re excited to see how they grow and develop for next season.”
Andy Jacobs contributed to this story
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.