Second-Half Eruption Lifts Pleasantville to a Win Over the Tigers
With its offense sputtering through a sixth straight scoreless quarter, the Pleasantville football team sure needed a spark from somewhere just before halftime of Friday night’s game against Putnam Valley.
It arrived with a stirring goal-line stand in the final seconds of the second quarter, enabling the Panthers to walk off the field at intermission still tied with the visiting Tigers and providing the impetus for the flurry of touchdowns that followed. With senior fullback Brandon Castro running for 120 yards and two touchdowns, the Panthers defeated Putnam Valley 19-6 under the lights at Parkway Field.
“Right before the half was huge,” said Panthers coach Tony Becerra shortly after watching his team win for the third time in four games this season. “I mean, that defensive stand was the momentum our offense needed coming out for the second half.”
With the teams still scoreless because the Tigers’ Ryan Basso had dropped a probable touchdown pass midway through the opening quarter and a pair of Panther drives ended with fumbles, Putnam Valley got a big opportunity to get on the board first with a roughing-the-kicker call five minutes before halftime.
A personal foul on the Panthers soon moved the ball to midfield and a 22-yard pass by Zack Nolan to Edward Lent four plays later advanced it to the Pleasantville 1-yard line with 23 seconds left on the clock. But the Panther defense rose to the occasion, stopping Dean D’Allessio up the middle on first down and Zach Girvalo on a pitchout on second down. Time expired before the Tigers could run another play.
At halftime, Becerra implored his players to start running the ball right down the Tigers’ throats.
“I wasn’t unhappy in the first half,” he said. “We had the ball down inside the 30 twice. It wasn’t like we weren’t moving the ball. We turned the ball over. I just knew we needed to get back to our ground and pound in the second half just to play it safe a little bit.”
The Panthers received the kickoff to start the second half and proceeded to march 65 yards on 10 plays that took up nearly five minutes. Castro capped the drive by taking a pitchout and running left for a 25-yard touchdown. The point-after try was no good, but with 7:05 left in the third quarter Pleasantville had a 6-0 lead.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, their lead lasted less than 15 seconds. D’Allessio returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a Putnam Valley touchdown. But the two-point pass try was broken up by Castro and the score remained 6-6. Castro then nearly broke another kick return, taking the ball all the way to the Tigers’ 40.
Three plays later, Panther junior quarterback Jeff Barile found Frank Tirri open near the right sideline and the senior tight end raced untouched to score on a 41-yard touchdown that gave Pleasantville the lead for good with 5:04 remaining in the third quarter. Sam Mendez added the PAT for a 13-6 Panther advantage.
The Tigers’ bid to get even again on their next possession ended when Nolan’s fourth-and-nine pass to Lent into double coverage was picked off by Jack Browne at the Panther 6-yard line. Another Putnam Valley drive was halted three minutes into the final quarter when the Panther defense stopped Girvalo on fourth-and-one at the Tigers’ 44. The Panthers took over and, two plays later, Castro ran 34 yards off left tackle for another touchdown. The extra-point kick was no good, but Pleasantville suddenly had a 19-6 cushion.
“I challenged them at halftime and I said, ‘There’s no secret, we’re gonna come out and pound it and pound it and pound it,’” admitted Becerra. “’And let’s see if you’re up to the task.’ And they were.”
The Panthers had an opportunity to all but clinch the victory when they drove down to the Tigers’ 25 with under five minutes to go. But they fumbled the ball away and a 56-yard pass play from Nolan to Lent gave Putnam Valley some new life.
“I put the blame on the defensive back coach, which is me,” joked Becerra. “No, I know these guys. They saw the quarterback sprint out, so instead of getting depth they flattened with him. And that’s what allowed the receiver to get behind ‘em. We talk about it all the time at practice, but executing it is a different thing. That’s an easy fix.”
The big play by the Tigers came with 2:15 still on the clock, but three plays later they faced a fourth-and-15 with 90 seconds left. Nolan’s pass to D’Allessio fell incomplete and the Panthers soon ran out the clock to the delight of their large student cheering section.
Afterwards, his coach had special praise for Castro, who had stepped up in the absence of Josh Della Puca.
“Ah, he is Johnny on the Spot,” said Becerra. “When we need a conversion for a first down, he’s so reliable because you know it’s gonna take more than one guy to get him down, despite his size. He’s just not gonna be that easy to bring down.”
The victory over the Tigers helped erase the memory of last week’s bitter home loss to Lourdes, but Becerra knows the playoff chase doesn’t get any easier for the Panthers.
“We’ve still got the meat of our schedule ahead of us with Ardsley and Nanuet,” he said. “I mean, those are gonna be two really tough ones. So we’ve got our work cut out for us just to make it to the top four.”
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.
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