DiNota’s Late Touchdown Lifts Westlake Over Ardsley

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Westlake’s Rob DiNota scores the game-winning
touchdown in Saturday’s semifinal vs. Ardsley.

By Danny Lopriore – Westlake quarterback Rob DiNota fought off severe leg cramps in both legs and a stiff autumn wind on Saturday afternoon to score the winning touchdown with less than a minute remaining in a 26-22 comeback victory over visiting Ardsley in the Section 1 Class B football semifinals.

DiNota, who rushed for 195 yards on 18 carries despite two visits to the trainer with muscle cramps, ran for 45 yards in the game-winning 82-yard drive, capping it with a 10-yard touchdown run. The Westlake defense gave DiNota’s offense a last chance to win by stopping Ardsley twice inside its own 25-yard line in the final seven minutes of the game.

“I just didn’t want to be on the bench and watch the season end for my team,” said DiNota, a senior who also plays defensive back. “These were the worst leg cramps I’ve ever had, no doubt. I have to give credit to our line and the other backs who gave me breaks so we could keep going. But it was the defense that saved us. It was a great team win.”

The resilient top-seeded Wildcats (8-1) earned a spot in Saturday’s 6 p.m. sectional final against No. 2 seed and defending Class B champion Pleasantville at Mahopac High School. Westlake lost its regular-season meeting to Pleasantville 28-12, as well as last year’s title game to the Panthers.

Both teams were helped and hindered by gusting winds that reached 20 to 25 miles per hour during the game. Westlake coach John Castellano said the wind determined field position and what each team could do offensively.

Westake scored first with the wind after a short Ardsley punt into the wind gave the home team possession on the Panthers’ 39-yard line. DiNota, who did not throw often, hit running back David Grossman with a 24-yard pass in the right side of the end zone and made the point-after kick himself for a 7-0 lead.

“When Ardsley had the wind, they moved the ball really well, passing it and getting great field position with punts,” Castellano said. “We struggled defensively in the first half, but the defense came up big when it counted most. I’m very proud that we never gave in.”

Still with the wind at its back in the first quarter, Westlake got the ball back at the Ardsley 41 and DiNota took his first carry of the day 41 yards for a score, evading Ardsley defensive players along the way for a 13-0 lead.

Ardsley responded quickly despite facing the breeze.

Panthers quarterback Julian McGarvey, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 212 yards and two scores and rushed for another 62 yards, hit Jason Solano for a 31-yard catch and run to cut the lead to 13-7. McGarvey hit Solano late in the third quarter to give the Panthers their last lead of the game at 22-19.

“McGarvey played great to get them the lead,” DiNota said. “He was making all the plays and using the wind to throw the ball. We had to stop him and the defense did.”

Down 14-13 at halftime, DiNota flipped the lead on the first drive of the second half, calling his own number and running left through a pair of tackles, then sprinting 64 yards past three Ardsley defenders for a score and a 19-14 lead.

“I think that run may have brought on the first cramps,” he said. “I could feel the muscles getting stiff. When we got the ball back the next series, I ran it and went down. It was pretty bad.”

McGarvey took advantage of the wind again and moved his team down the field on an eight-play drive for the go-ahead score on a pass to Solano that left the Wildcats trailing by three points.

Westlake punted on its next possession with DiNota struggling and the Wildcats defense did the same, leaving Ardsley on its own 37 with time running out in the third quarter and the wind advantage. The Panther punt traveled 65 yards and left Westlake on its own 3-yard line.

DiNota hit a 55-yard punt of his own with the wind early in the fourth quarter, but fell to the grass with cramps again, being helped off the field with eight minutes remaining. He would return minutes later after the Wildcat defense held to set up the winning drive. On a day he threw three interceptions and was sent to the sidelines by cramps, he got another chance and turned defeat into victory.

“I have been taught by my family that you have to overcome adversity,” DiNota said. “We wanted a chance to play Pleasantville. Now we have to get the win.”

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