For a little while on Saturday afternoon, it sure seemed as though the Pleasantville Panthers possessed what it would take to bring down the top-ranked football team in the state.
The Panthers’ sophomore star, Daniel Picart, had already found his way into the end zone for a pair of touchdowns not long after the game’s opening kickoff and a surprising 12-point lead gave their fans reason to believe a second state championship plaque would soon be headed to the school’s gym lobby.
But the Panthers never scored again after Picart’s electrifying 79-yard punt return just past the midway point of the first quarter and the Maine-Endwell Spartans eventually took command on the way to a 21-12 victory in the Class B state final at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. For Pleasantville, which had arrived with a perfect 12-0 record, it was a crushing end to a season that exceeded all expectations.
Facing a Spartan team that had scored at least 40 points in a game seven times this year, Pleasantville began the day with poise and purpose. With the Panthers setting aside their usually reliable running game, quarterback Michael LaCapria engineered a seven-play, 71-yard opening drive by completing five consecutive passes, highlighted by his perfect deep toss down the right sideline that fell right into the arms of Picart in stride for a 42-yard touchdown with just a couple of minutes elapsed.
Unfortunately for Pleasantville, the point-after kick by John McCarthy, who hadn’t missed one all season, was blocked and the Panthers had to settle for a 6-0 early lead. Perhaps inspired by the team’s offensive fireworks, the Panther defense then forced a three-and-out for Maine-Endwell.
Picart fielded the line-drive punt near his own 20-yard line, cut toward his right and found nothing but clear sailing all the way to the end zone. Just six and a half minutes into the contest, Pleasantville suddenly had a 12-0 advantage.
The Panthers’ try for a two-point conversion was stopped and, moments later, so was all their early momentum. Spartan star Mike Mancini returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards, getting a couple of blocks and then bursting past everyone like a rocket untouched all the way to paydirt. Jack Hennessey’s PAT cut the Pleasantville lead to just 12-7 with 5:17 remaining in the opening quarter.
On their next possession, the Panthers kept the ball for over five minutes, but the drive finally stalled at the Maine-Endwell 21-yard line a minute into the second quarter. McCarthy soon recovered a Spartan fumble, but P’ville wasn’t able to take advantage.
Later in the quarter, another long Picart punt return was called back because of a penalty. In the final seconds, the Panthers’ Kieran Cotter picked off a pass, assuring that Pleasantville would take a lead into the locker room at halftime.
The prospect of a Panther state championship began to dim with Maine-Endwell’s first possession of the second half. The Spartans went 61 yards in nine plays, taking the lead when quarterback Mancini, on fourth-and-six, rolled to his right, got to the sideline and then spun away from Dom Matica before bouncing off Aidan Finnegan on the way to a spectacular 33-yard touchdown run.
Hennessey added the point-after and four and a half minutes into the second half Maine-Endwell had its first lead of the day, 14-12. The Spartans maintained their two-point lead as the third quarter came to an end, but they were in the midst of a grueling, time-consuming drive that would all but seal the Panthers’ fate.
Nearly five minutes into the fourth quarter, Mancini dropped back to pass and found Aidan McHugh free past a pair of P’ville backs in the left side of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. With the kick from Hennessey, the Panthers now faced a nine-point deficit. Maine-Endwell had used up seven vital minutes with the 13-play drive that started near midfield.
The Panthers’ last real gasp came with just over three minutes remaining when a pass from LaCapria, who connected on 26 of 39 for 242 yards in a dazzling final game, fell incomplete on fourth down. Despite a dozen receptions by Picart for 152 yards and six catches each by Erik Coleman and Emmet McDermott, Pleasantville was unable to put points on the board over the game’s final 41 minutes and the dream of a state championship faded away.
– Andy Jacobs
Andy is a sports editor at Examiner Media, covering seven high schools in the mid-Westchester region with a notebook and camera. He began there in the fall of 2007 following 15 years as a candid photographer for the largest school picture company in the tri-state area.