By Ray Gallagher
Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
Rob DiAntonio @RJD_Photos
And in just six quick but highly appreciated weeks, the “Fall II” Section 1 football season, otherwise trashed by the COVID-19 pandemic last fall, is in our rear-view mirrors. There were bumps in the road, for sure, but the good crushed the bad by a country mile and then some. Section 1 administrators and coaches did their best to provide student athletes with a football outlet we sorely needed. The foundations for the 2021 season were built, largely on the energy supplied by Mahopac High Coach Dom DeMatteo, who advocated and pushed state officials to open their eyes to attain some form of normal for gridders across the state. Here’s a look back at the culminating events of Week 6; a year that we would rather forget, but were, nonetheless, thankful for.
SOMERS 17, JOHN JAY CR 14
Like he has throughout his remarkable three-year varsity career upon Section 1 gridirons, Somers senior RB/LB Jack Kaiser came, saw and conquered. The undefeated Tuskers (6-0) hopped aboard Kaiser, much like the Wolves of John Jay did, and went for the ride.
Kaiser rushed 36 times for 170 yards and a touchdown in his swan song performance, capping his career with a 17-14 victory over host John Jay-Cross River last Friday in the season-ending Section 1 Class A North Regional Bowl Championship.
“My guys are killers, seriously, they played great defense all season, but they kept coming up to me saying, ‘Coach, we can’t stop this kid.’,” veteran John Jay Coach Jimmy Clark admitted. “Nothing we did seemed to slow him down and forget about bringing him down on first contact, not happening. It was a great game and both teams have a lot to be proud of.”
After losing senior QB Jackson Kossow to a knee injury, opponents knew the Tuskers weren’t going to throw the ball, putting additional pressure on Kaiser, who established the new school record with 48 career TDs, scoring at least one touchdown in every game of his career but one, including 10 in an abbreviated 2021, 15 in 2020 and 23 his rookie season. Rye was the only program to keep Kaiser from finding paydirt in the 2020 sectional semis, a 28-20 win by the soon-to-be-champion Garnets.
“Kaiser, without a doubt, is the best back in NYS,” said Somers Coach Tony DeMatteo, now in his 52nd season of coaching in Section 1, just five wins shy (with 360) of the NYS record for career win (364). “And he’s one of the five best backs to ever come out of Section 1, and I’ve been around 52 years, so I’ve seen them all. No one, I have never seen Jack Kaiser go down on the first hit in three years. And for a short, squat guy, he’s pretty fast and he’s about 220 pounds.”
Kaiser’s offensive line has done the trick, too, going out of their way to lay the wood, including Danny Curran, Anthony Cheek, Aiden Hopper, Anthony Miller, Colin Smith, Ben Seagrist, Luc Verrard, Nick Crecco, Evan Hough and 6’3” 290-pound sophomore Jake Polito, the pile driver.
“Out of everybody I’ve ever had to block for, Jack’s definitely the easiest,” Polito said. “He makes my mistakes much less severe. It’s a pleasure blocking for him. I always know he’s right there behind me doing his job.
“We found a real purpose in just being family,” Polito said of his teammates. “I have a blood relative on the team (cousin, TJ Deagan) and I have 60 or 70 other brothers on that sideline with me. It’s awesome to do this with them.”
The Tuskers were sensational on defense, shutting down a Wolves (5-1) club that averaged 36.8 PPG coming in. Jay rushed for just 52 yards. Tusker senior Evan Lasseter led the defense with seven tackles and Trey Mancuso had four tackles and a forced fumble, which he recovered just before the half. Polito and Curran both added four tackles.
“We’re a little nicked up, so the defense really rose to the challenge,” DeMatteo said. “We had a great, great week of practice and I was very comfortable with the game plan. They followed the philosophy that I teach them, which is be where you belong and then run to the ball. Everyone’s got a job to do, just do your job.
“The pandemic has been hard on everyone,” DeMatteo continued. “John Jay and myself were fortunate to get our six games in, and so many other teams missed games, so this became a very special season for me because we were able to (go undefeated), to win a championship and do it through all these circumstances.”
Somers K Alex Cabo’s 20-yard field goal late in the third quarter gave the Tuskers a two-score lead and proved to be the difference when the Wolves found paydirt late in the fourth when QB Nick Giardina scored his second TD with :44.7 left. RB Nate Rosenzweig had eight carries for 62 yards and RB Cole Zampaglione scored a two-yard touchdown in the second quarter for a 14-7 lead the Tuskers took into the half. Lasseter had four rushes for 20 yards. Rosenzweig was particularly big on the game’s opening drive with Jay keying on Kaiser, but it was Kaiser who capped the game’s initial drive.
“It’s all my line, they get the push, I get the yards,” Kaiser said. “There’s an old saying we used to have from our youth leagues, ‘What’s four times three? It’s a first down. That’s the kind of team we are, tough and gritty and we’re gonna run it down your throat. That’s what we did all night.
“Coach D had a plan and the plan worked to perfection,” Kaiser said of the defensive scheme. “He’s the GOAT for a reason. Our O-line and D-line, it starts there. It’s everything. A 6-0 season, now we’re chilling out and having fun. We’re about to celebrate this. It means everything to us.”
The Somers football program is in great shape, having finished 14-0, including varsity, JV and modified combined.
BYRAM HILLS 35, WESTLAKE 14
With just eight teams in Class B, Byram Hills coach Doug Carpenter knew that they’d have a chance at naming a true Section 1 champion during a football season that was pushed to the spring due to COVID. And the top-seeded Bobcats made the most of that opportunity, capping off an unbeaten season with a 35-14 win over second-seeded Westlake on Saturday afternoon. Byram claimed its first section title in team history.
“It’s unbelievable, all we asked for was an opportunity to compete,” Byram Hills senior quarterback and team captain Hayden Fruhling said. “We were quite honestly so happy when we were told we were allowed to hold our first practices. This group is so special. We’re so close and the chemistry on this team is unreal. To be able to come out here and play five (regular season) games and a section championship, there’s nothing like it. I can’t be more thankful to the people who made it happen.”
“We’ve been talking about this since were in fourth grade (winning a section title). We’ve had a lot of battles over the years with these teams we got to play this year. Quite honestly, it’s a dream come true. I’m going to miss these guys. I can’t believe it’s over. Everybody told me it was going to go by in the blink of an eye and it did. Going out this way, it’s a win. We’re all very happy.”
It was a 14-14 game at halftime but the tides quickly turned in the second half. On the host Bobcats’ first possession of the third quarter, Fruhling broke loose on fourth-and-1 for a 26-yard gain down to Westlake’s 15. Senior captain Matt Weiler then walked in from five yards out. Senior captain David Gold’s PAT gave Byram a 21-14 lead with 9:28 left in the third quarter.
“At halftime, we were saying there’s only 24 minutes left in our high school careers,” Weiler said. “We just wanted to come down and put in a touchdown right there. This definitely means a lot (winning a section title). I’ve been playing with these kids my whole life and it’s just awesome that we were able to win our last game together.”
“We’re a close team and every single day when we came out to practice, we just enjoyed it. Obviously, we’re special and talented kids. We just focus on doing our job and trusting everyone and I think that’s what makes us special.”
On Westlake’s next possession, a high snap to punter Josh Gelman sailed over his head. He recovered the ball at his own 33-yard line, setting up Byram with above average field position. Fruhling found Ben Weinhoff on a 19-yard pass over the middle then they hooked up again on an 8-yard slant for a touchdown to put them up 28-14 midway through the third quarter.
“To come out of halftime with momentum was huge,” Fruhling said. “Obviously, Westlake’s an amazing team and they played us really tough in the first half. We talked all year that we’re a second half team. Although, at times it hurt us but today we got into a jam and we were confident. We stayed composed and made some plays.”
On Westlake’s next possession, senior James Murray suffered a tough-to-watch hip injury, resulting in a half hour delay.
Byram converted a fourth-and-15 when Fruhling found senior captain Steven Franco on a dart over the middle for 26 yards to get the Bobcats down to the Westlake 6. Fruhling ran it in on the next play, Gold’s extra point was good and Byram went up by three touchdowns with 10:30 to play.
Fruhling connected with Weinhoff for two touchdowns in the game and finished with 102 yards passing on 8 of 15 attempts. He also rushed for 95 yards on 14 carries. Weiler had two rushing touchdowns and ran for 87 yards on 17 carries.
“Hayden actually tweaked his back in practice and at one point we didn’t know if we were going to have him,” Carpenter said. “Our backup quarterback went in and we didn’t miss a beat in practice. Hayden did a great job rehabbing himself all week. It’s also a huge testament to what Matt Weiler has done this season and our offensive line as well. When you have a running back like Matt and an offensive line that can block for him, as a defense you have to be very aggressive with your safeties. And we were able to kind of use that against them at times and throw the ball when their safety played run. Hayden did a really good job reading and being patient and letting the game come to him.”
With the focus on stopping the running game of Weiler and Fruhling, the passing attack was something that the Wildcats had difficulty defending.
“We talked all week about not letting Weiler and Fruhling beat us on the ground,” Westlake coach John Castellano said. “I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half of containing their running game. I told the kids, ‘Hey, if they beat us throwing the ball, they’re going to beat us throwing the ball.’ In the first half we did a great job but they found some stuff in the second half and that hurt us.”
Westlake senior quarterback Matt Sardo (13 carries, 52 yards) and senior fullback Joe Piazza rushed for touchdowns in the first half. The Wildcats led 14-7 before a Weiler touchdown tied the game with a minute left in the first half.
“Right before the half, they had third-and-8 and we jumped offsides and they converted a fourth-and-3 and then they score with a minute to go in the half,” Castellano said. “If we go into the half up 14-7 it might have been different. And they came out and made some good adjustments and took it to us. But even at 21-14, you’ve got to respond and we didn’t. The snap over the punters head killed us and the next series we lose Jimmy. That was just a snowball effect we couldn’t recover from.”
Byram scored four unanswered touchdowns after Westlake took an early lead.
“We knew Westlake was going to be championship ready and they tested us,” Carpenter said. “It was the first time we trailed all year and our kids responded very well. What we asked them to do before the game is that when we have adversity, be a great teammate. Be there for them, be brothers.”
After dropping its season opener to Byram, Westlake (3-2) won three straight games with Ardsley, Putnam Valley and Pleasantville to reach the Section 1 Class B final.
“I knew in 2019 when we left the field against Ardsley in that semifinal loss, we knew were going to be pretty good (this season),” Castellano said. “We had 16 seniors and most of them were starters as juniors. We felt the experience level was good. We were excited and then COVID hit and it was devastating. I was so disappointed that these kids weren’t going to have the opportunity to play because I knew how hard they worked and how good they were. And then when the section came through and said we’ll play spring ball, I was excited about that and the kids responded. You didn’t see it in the second half today, but we were a much better football team today than we were five weeks ago. We had some quality wins. They can hang their hat on a 21-game win streak that we stopped (against Ardsley) and a Pleasantville situation which is their rivalry.”
Byram (6-0), which fell in last year’s Section 1 final to Ardsley, completed its first undefeated season in at least 30 years.
“In some ways, it’s really unfortunate there wasn’t a state tournament because I think we’re the best team in the state in Class B,” Carpenter said. “I can confidently say that. I’ve seen Port Jervis on film and I think if we played them it would be a four quarter, knock-down, drag-out war. We tried to get a game with them and it just didn’t quite work out. I do think we could have made the road to Syracuse and came home with that New York State championship. But on the other hand, I’m just happy we got to play football. The fact that we’re champions is awesome and the fact that we’re undefeated is awesome but I’m just happy I got the opportunity to coach these kids one last time.”
MAHOPAC 21, LAKELAND 18
Host Lakeland dominated for three-and-a-half quarters, but that’s why we play the full four; to figure out which team has the composure and wherewithal to fulfill all 48 minutes, which the Indians did in the end. Trailing 18-7 with just over five minutes remaining, Mahopac rode the legs of senior RB Vin Bastone, the arm of junior QB Anthony DeMatteo and the sure hands of junior WR Ryan Rondeau to score the final 14 points.
Rondeau’s fourth-down grab at the back of the end zone from DeMatteo with :57 left in the fourth gave the Indians a 19-18 lead and Bastone, who had scored Mahopac’s previous TD (his 8th of the season), added a two-point conversion catch from DeMatteo for the final margin. But just like 49ers had Dwight Clark’s “The Catch” back in 1982 NFC championship, the 2021 Indians, trust us, will always have “The Catch” from Rondeau.
“It was a go route that I thought was gonna be covered pretty easily,” Rondeau said, “but then the safety covering me cut back into the comeback (route) Patrick McMahon was running. Then, I waved my arms around in the end zone to show that I was open. I ran the end line to cut inside, and Anthony DeMatteo threw a perfect pass. It was really all a blur and felt like it was out of a movie. I was really just in disbelief.”
Bastone finished with 103 yards on 26 totes and finished the year with 537 yards on 108 carries.
On the go-ahead score, DeMatteo looked like he might have to tuck it and run for a first down on 4th-and-8, but he spotted Rondeau from the 21-yard line and unleashed a strike that sailed about 30 yards for the TD.
“Just some good ole fashion ‘boot’ with a li’l wrinkle,” said DeMatteo who hit on 12-of-21 passes for 141 yards and two TDs.
“Basically, Rondeau was the number one receiver to the left and (Patrick) McMahon was the number two to the left. Rondeau was on a go route, with McMahon on the comeback. (Andrew) Cohen was the backside drag with (Michael) Harney in the flat.”
“They were playing excellent coverage all game and matched every route,” DeMatteo said of the Hornets. “I knew that me tucking it down and running it or dumping it down to Harney was not getting us the first down. Ironically enough, Rondeau’s go route on that play is really supposed to just run the corner off. But he pointed to his left, I threw it where he could make a play, and all I could hear was the silence of the crowd. Just an absolutely surreal play resulting in an absolutely surreal win.”
None of that was lost on Anthony’s dad, Mahopac Coach Dominick DeMatteo.
“We had great protection by our offensive line, Anthony did an excellent job to extend the play and deliver a strike,” the coach said, “and it was just tremendous awareness by Ryan Rondeau to work back inside and get open. Anthony has been a leader all year, but yesterday he took another step toward emerging as one of the better QBs in our area.”
“They had us on the ropes, but we outplayed them in the end,” Coach DeMatteo added. “Make no mistake.”
DeMatteo also hooked up with senior WR Matt Puckhaber for a 50-yard TD strike in the first half. Puckhaber also had an INT. John Pranzo (2.5 sacks) and Craig Perri (1) each found the QB for the Indians.
Lakeland’s last-ditch attempt came up short, but the Hornets (3-3) were in it to win for 3-plus quarters. Lakeland QB Tyler Santucci was having his way, hitting on 20-of-30 passes for a career-high 310 yards and two TD passes. Hornet Danny Libretti was beasting on both sides of the ball, leading Lakeland with 10 tackles, eight catches for 119 yards and two TDs, one receiving, one rushing. He had seven rushes 53 yards. Lakeland WR Mark Cummins (4 catches, 92 yards, 1 TD grab) had another big game, and Connor McGannon had seven tackles for the Hornets.
CARMEL 34, ROCKLAND 0
In terms of championships, Coach Todd Cayea’s Class AA Rams came up empty like the rest of the section’s AA schools, which, unlike Class A and B, chose a meaningless approach to its culminating events. In terms of championship pedigree, though, Carmel had a Final 4 spirit, or perhaps, a championship appearance in it if not for COVID-19 and this abbreviated season.
Class AA opted to play six straight games instead of crossing over leagues to align the top four teams to crown co-champions like Class A did. Instead, the Rams (5-1) played a ho-hum Week 6 game against an opponent they overwhelmed from the jump. Make no mistake, though, the 2021 Fall II campaign was all about building the foundation for the actual 2021 season in September. After outscoring their six opponents by a combined 205-69 mark, Carmel will return a ton of talent and expectations will be off the charts, making the off-season all the more important #SlackersBeGone.
“We had a season to remember, for sure,” Coach Cayea said. “Without question probably the most surprising season I’ve ever had as Carmel coach as far as the expectations. I think these kids really exceeded the expectations of our coaching staff going in. That’s a credit to the kids and their dedication. The leadership from the senior class was good, and it allowed the junior and senior classes to build an authentic relationship. That really translated onto the field as far as our performance goes. They enjoyed playing for each other and enjoyed playing football, which was a recipe for success. I’m ecstatic with the season and proud of the kids and our coaches and the entire community and administration and all of those that supported us this year. We took full advantage of it and I told our kids to stay in the moment and really enjoy it, because after this it’s just a memory, but I’ll never forget it. From our scout players to our starters. It was just a great year.”
Carmel junior RB Josh Massi continued to provide a glimpse into a promising future when he gouged RCK for 108 yards and a TD on just 15 touches while setting up maximum field position for others to score. Make no mistake, the elusive Massi boy, who burst onto the scene like few others in Section 1 this season, will be the foundation of the Rams’ versatile attack next season.
Carmel WR/DB Ryan McDonald, a fiery senior leader, scored a nifty end-around (20 Mac formation) touchdown and had four tackles on defense. Rams QB Kevin Dall (4 rushes, 46 yards) fired a TD pass to TJ Fusco and ran for another. Junior Trevor Cayea added a 29-yard jaunt to set up another score. Nick Sodano made 27- and 28-yard field goals for the Rams and would have been the most productive kicker in school history during a regular season.
“Just had to get in the end zone in my final game,” McDonald said.
BRIARCLIFF/HAMILTON 35, MAGNUS 7
Briarcliff/Hamilton capped off an unbeaten 4-0 season with a 35-7 blowout win over visiting Albertus Magnus in the Small School Independent League Championship Bowl Game on Saturday afternoon.
Brandon Rispoli, a junior halfback, scored all five of the Bears’ touchdowns in the win, rushing for four scores while also catching a TD pass. He kicked off the scoring with a 9-yard scamper with 8:40 left in the first quarter. Luca Vargish’s PAT got B/H out to a 7-0 lead.
On the Bears’ next possession, a 26-yard pass from Marc Milano to Jaylen Savage got the Bears in business and Rispoli punched it in from two yards out to give them a 14-0 lead with 4:47 left in the first quarter. A 20-yard wide receiver screen from Milano to Jackson Mauro got B/H down to the Falcons’ 12 and a two plays later Rispoli scored yet again on a 5-yard run as time expired in the first quarter to make it 21-0.
The Falcons got on the board late in the first half and the game went into halftime with the Bears leading 21-7.
On the first play of the second half, Rispoli broke a 35-yard run to get the Bears to the Falcons’ 30. Milano then connected with Rispoli on a 9-yard TD pass on fourth down to extend the lead to 28-7 just over three minutes into the third.
B/H closed out the scoring when Rispoli scored his fifth touchdown of the day on a 1-yard run with 5:05 to go. Vargish’s fifth extra point made it 35-7.
FOX LANE 26, PORT CHESTER 16
Fox Lane senior halfback Christian Horvath rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns in the Foxes’ 26-16 win over visiting Port Chester last Tuesday. The Foxes, who were celebrating their senior night, earned their first win.
Mitchel Antin returned a blocked punt by Thomas Olsen for a touchdown and quarterback Eric Miller found Logan Matson on a 26-yard touchdown pass over the middle for the Foxes’ other score. Fox Lane trailed 16-14 at halftime before Horvath took over in the second half.
ARLINGTON 21, FOX LANE 12
Horvath rushed for two touchdowns and 111 yards on 23 carries in a 21-12 loss to host Arlington on Saturday as the Foxes closed out the season with a 1-4 record. Miller threw for 216 yards while going 13 for 24 with Matson (6 receptions, 124 yards) and Luke Steger (2 receptions, 40 yards) leading the way at receiver.
VALHALLA 28, WOODLANDS 0
Valhalla Coach Art Troilo Jr. earned his 200th career victory in the Vikings’ 28-0 win over host Woodlands last Monday, April 19. The Vikings improved to 4-1 and won their fourth straight game.
Mahari Davis rushed for two touchdowns while Lorenzo Robinson and Joe O’Neil had one each for the Vikings.
“Getting coach that 200th felt amazing,” Davis said. “He puts his all into coaching and making every player the best they can be. The best part about it though was dumping the two jugs of water on him after the game!”
VALHALLA 41, BLIND BROOK 13
The Vikings concluded the season at 5-1 with a 41-13 win over visiting Blind Brook on Friday night. Davis, Joe Nolan and Robinson rushed for a touchdown each. Cade Canas (interception return), Daniel Tammaro (punt return) and Rashean Melvin (fumble return) also added a touchdown.
“We knew if we came out and dominated from the first play we could end the game early and that’s exactly what we did,” Davis said. “Rahsean Melvin’s kickoff return put us in a great position to score and gave us all the momentum we needed to win. We ended our season on a loss last year so to win our last five in a row was such a great feeling.”
PLEASANTVILLE 24, NANUET 7
Pleasantville (3-3) ended a three-game slide with a 24-7 win over host Nanuet in a Class B bowl game on Saturday. Panthers quarterback Aiden Picart threw two touchdown passes and Daniel Picart rushed for two touchdowns. He also had a receiving TD and added an interception in the win. Brennan McDermott caught a touchdown pass.
HORACE GREELEY 22, BEACON 6
Greeley (1-4) picked up its first win of the campaign and closed out the season with a 22-6 win over host Beacon last Thursday.
NEW ROCHELLE 42, WHITE PLAINS 22
White Plains finished the season at 2-4 with a 42-22 loss to visiting New Rochelle on Thursday. The Tigers trailed 42-14 at halftime.
Jay Biondi rushed for a touchdown and threw a TD pass to Spencer Englert. Chris McGuire intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for a score. Elijah Pierre and McGuire had two-point conversion runs.
OSSINING 37, MT. VERNON 22
RB Terrell Francis was the Pride’s workhorse, rushing for 162 yards and a TD on 33 totes to lead the Pride to the Class A Independent League Bowl Championship. Pride QB Caden Hallinan punched in a pair of scores and rushed for 34 yards on nine carries and fired a TD strike to Vincent Stella. Liam Hamilton also ran for a short TD.
TUCKAHOE 37, HALDANE 36
Section 1 Class D’s only football rivalry didn’t disappoint Saturday when the host Tigers kicked the go-ahead field goal with 17 seconds left to end Haldane’s 2-4 season on a down note. Haldane QB Daniel Santos hit his brother Darrin Santos for a 23-yard TD with 3:48 left, and the two-point pass conversion put Haldane up 36-28. The brothers also hooked up on a 92-yard score earlier. Daniel finished with 290 yards passing, including 167 yards to his twin, Darrin, who finished with three TD grabs. No doubt, them Santos boys are legendary multi-sport athletes at Haldane for multiple reasons on and off the field.
Christian Pezzullo and Evan Giachinta were opportunistic for the Blue Devils defense, each returning a fumble for a score. Giachinta also had 2-point conversion run that was ruled short, which Haldane Coach Ryan McConville begged to differ on and ultimately cost the Tigers a W.
YORKTOWN did not play this week due to COVD-19 pause, but had the Huskers (3-2) done so they would have faced Our Lady of Lourdes coach and longtime Section 1 legend Brian Walsh, a Yorktown High alum. As he recently announced his retirement, it would have been a fitting end to Walsh’s wonderful career to go up against his alma mater. Between Lourdes, Yorktown, John Jay EF and Brewster, Walsh, who taught so much more than football, has impacted the lives of so many young men who are forever grateful #CoachingLegend.