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Resilient Rams Fight to Finish, Fall 31-14 to CBA Syracuse
By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
They never felt sorry for themselves, never hung their heads despite the unfortunate hand they were dealt on the final day of an incredible season. As if the situation wasn’t bad enough for Carmel – down 21-0 in the first quarter of the NYSPHSAA Class AA championship – it only got worse for Putnam County’s Rams when seasoned QB Christian Nunez left the game with a serious knee injury that kept him sidelined for the remainder of Sunday’s title tilt at the JMA Dome in Syracuse; what was an eventual 31-14 loss to Section 3 champion CBA.
The 13-time Section 3 champion Brothers (13-0), which went on to claim their second state crown in three years, secured their third state title overall while denying four-time Section 1 champ Carmel – the 2021 state champs and 2022 quarterfinalists – its second such jewel.
CBA receiver Darien Williams had posed some serious issues for the Carmel defense, grabbing four receptions for 173 yards and a pair of first-half TDs from QB Porter Matt, leading to a 21-0 halftime edge.
Carmel junior RB Christian Werlau provided a brief glimmer of hope, when, following a missed CBA field goal, he went for an 80-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 14 points after the Jared Navidad PAT with 2:06 left in the quarter. Werlau finished with a game-high 192 yards on 17 carries to finish an MVP-type campaign that should land him on the All-NYS list when all is said and done.
With possession to open the second half, Carmel came out conservative and punted back to CBA with 10:17 to go in the third quarter. The Brothers answered with anything but conservatism, dialing up Williams’ third TD grab – this one from versatile Syair Torrence – from 48 yards out with 7:18 left in the third for a 28-7 lead. CBA found holes throughout the day in the Carmel secondary, despite tight coverage, leading to 397 of CBA’s 504 offensive yards for the game through the air. MVP Williams went for seven receptions and 234 back-breaking yards.
As they have done all season, though, the state-ranked (No.8) Rams (11-2) showed resilience and marched to the CBA 25 but another high snap set up third-and-long at the 34 before QB Brian McGrory sailed a dime into Damien Santiago to set up fourth and short, but it was called back on a penalty to set up fourth and 22, which the Rams could not convert.
Still, the Rams showed no quit. LB Connor Pile cruised in like a missile for a TFL on the ensuing series, but CBA went up top again to sophomore Hicks for a one-handed grab. The Ram defense stiffened, though, and forced a turnover on downs before Werlau struck yet again: This time taking a toss from McGrory and going 78 yards to make it 28-14 with 10:10 to go.
That was as close as the Rams would get to the state-ranked (No.4) Brothers, who were stacked with D-I-caliber players on both sides of the ball.
DL Liam Forster has made play after play on along the defensive line for Carmel while never-say-die LB Matt Risley made picture-perfect sticks deep into the fourth. Ram WR Damien Santiago led Carmel with two catches for 73 yards.
Risley also covered what it means to play Carmel football.
“They were a good, well-coached team, who got an early jump on us,” Captain Risley admitted. “To come back in a situation like that is definitely difficult, but as you can see this team has no quit. Went as hard as we could to the very last play. Words can’t explain how grateful I am to be a part of this team and its legacy. Many teams loosely use the word ‘Family’ but not this one. This team was nothing short of a family, that’s what got us to where we were. Although we lost, there is nothing better than going to battle with your brothers, people you love and the whole town right there next to you.”
An Everett Gilchrist field goal from 38 yards out with 1:35 remaining for CBA provided the final margin, but from Week 2, when the Rams lost longtime Coach Todd Cayea out of nowhere to health issues and were blown out by pre-season favorite Arlington, to Week 13 when they three-peated as section champs and were among the last two teams standing in NYS, the 2023 Carmel Rams were the feel-good story of the year under Coach Tom Donahoe and a super likable staff.
“We’re very proud of this team and its accomplishments,” Carmel Assistant Coach Jim Donahoe said. “We didn’t weather the initial storm in the first quarter. CBA is very good, but damn, our kids fought until the end, every single one of them. When the dust settles and they reflect on the year, they should feel nothing but pride. They are an incredible group of ballers. I love them all.”
Sourcing & Methodology Statement:
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.