Panthers Overwhelm Valhalla in the Class B Semifinals

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Pleasantville’s Charlie McPhee carries the ball past
Valhalla’s Joseph Pecora in Friday’s Class B semifinal.

The first hint that Friday night’s Section 1, Class B semifinal game between Pleasantville and Valhalla wasn’t going to resemble their midseason meeting came on the opening play from scrimmage when Viking star Michael Ferrara was stopped for a two-yard loss. Another hint came on the next play as quarterback Ralph Gonzalez was sacked for a four-yard loss.

Moments later, the Panthers’ Declan McDermott provided an even bigger hint, gathering in Valhalla’s three-and-out punt near midfield and then scampering all the way into the end zone for a touchdown that jump-started Pleasantville on its way to a 41-14 rout against the overwhelmed Vikings at Pace Stadium.

Before the game was even five minutes old, McDermott had found pay dirt again, scoring on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Jack Howe. The Vikings, who had handed Pleasantville its only loss this season, back on the first day of October, never really recovered.

“It was 13-0 before the blink of an eye,” said Vikings coach Stephen Boyer, who certainly figured the Panthers would be chomping at the bit for the rematch following their surprising 21-20 loss. “You kind of knew, you had a feeling, that Pleasantville would come out because I think it was a wakeup call for them. They came out guns loaded and just ran us over and won both sides of the football.”

“Yeah, we really wanted to set the tone with defense and certainly did,” said Pleasantville coach Tony Becerra. “On top of that, with the punt return, you could just tell that’s what the kids wanted to do. They wanted to set the tone from the get-go and they did it in spades.”

The Howe-to-McDermott touchdown pass concluded a three-play, 42-yard drive that lasted all of one minute. It left the Vikings momentarily reeling, but Ferrara quickly gave Valhalla fans some hope when he returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Panthers’ 30-yard line. But on first down, Gonzalez was sent limping to the sidelines after running for a six-yard gain.

A Ferrara 10-yard run on third and five moved the ball to the 15 and then Gonzalez returned for the Vikings. He immediately found Erick Pasqualone open in the right side of the end zone for a 15-yard TD pass, and the point-after sliced the Pleasantville lead to 13-7 just past the midway point of the first quarter.

But any notion the Vikings may have gotten that they were back in the contest was quickly dispelled by Pleasantville, which answered with a six-play, 69-yard drive that Howe ended with a nine-yard touchdown run around right end. Howe’s PAT gave the Panthers a 20-7 advantage with 3:52 left in the opening period.

On the first play of the second quarter, the Panthers’ Charlie McPhee, who finished the evening with 140 yards rushing and also surpassed 1000 for the season, turned the field into a virtual slalom course on his way to a dazzling 59-yard touchdown run that all but put an end to the Vikings’ playoff run.

McPhee’s electrifying run gave P’ville a 19-point lead just 17 seconds into the second quarter, but neither team could score the rest of the way before halftime. The Vikings walked off the field at intermission facing a big deficit and realizing they would have to kick off to the Panthers to start the third quarter.

“We knew getting the ball in the second half we wanted to pound the running game, which we did,” said Becerra. “And we knew if we could score out of the chute in the second half, that would be tough to overcome, even for an explosive team like Valhalla.”

It took the Panthers just over three minutes to move the football 65 yards on eight plays, all of them on the ground. McPhee’s 10-yard touchdown run was again followed by a missed point-after, the Panthers’ third of the night, but the lead was now up to 25 points.

More indignity awaited the Vikings on their first possession of the second half as an apparent 97-yard TD run by Pasqualone was nullified by a penalty and then a 32-yard pass completion from Gonzalez to Ferrara was called back. Moments later, Pasqualone was brought down in the end zone for a safety and the Panthers’ cushion became 34-7.

A two-yard touchdown run by Danny Minerva stretched the Pleasantville lead to 41-7 three minutes into the final quarter. Ferrara added the final touchdown of his standout career on a six-yard run that capped an eight-play, 69-yard Viking drive with 2:47 remaining.

“The kids were on a mission,” said Becerra, whose 8-1 Panthers now face Westlake Saturday evening in a rematch of last year’s Class B final. “They didn’t want to let up on offense, defense or special teams. So they weren’t going to be satisfied until the job was done.”

If the Panthers do go on to capture a second consecutive sectional title, Becerra thinks he can thank Valhalla a little bit for the Week 4 surprise that cost his team the top seed this year.

“Hopefully,” he said, “when 2017 is done for us, which we hope is not for a while, when all is said and done, maybe we look back at that game and say that was the turning point, the wakeup call we needed.”

While the Panthers now prepare for another big showdown with Westlake, Boyer and the Vikings have to be content with a semifinal finish in the playoffs.

“It’s been an awesome three-year run, said Boyer, shortly after he had coached Gonzalez, Ferrara and Pasqualone for the last time. “These kids brought football back to Valhalla. They put Valhalla back on the map. You know, we went from a 19 seed to a 3 seed in three years, and that’s a credit to these guys.”

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