Just when it seemed the Valhalla football team had some hope of climbing back into Friday night’s game against Westlake, the door slammed shut on the Vikings’ comeback bid.
In the blink of an eye, two consecutive plays early in the third quarter turned into a 14-point swing that all but ended any doubt about the outcome. Senior quarterback Rob DiNota ran for three touchdowns as the visiting Wildcats went on to a 42-7 rout and improved to 3-0 with their biggest game of the regular season just a week away.
“These kids did a great job this week getting ready for this football game,” said Wildcats coach John Castellano shortly after the anticlimactic fourth quarter had come to an end. “I gave ‘em a lot of stuff to deal with and they dealt with it like champions.”
Two late touchdowns in the second quarter had stretched Westlake’s lead to 28-7 at halftime, but the Vikings, now 1-2 this season, opened the third quarter by recovering an onside kick right at midfield. Seven plays later, they appeared about to make a dent in the Westlake lead as star running back Michael Ferrara carried the ball close to the end zone.
But the ball slipped free just as he reached the goal line and the Wildcats recovered it for a touchback. On first down, DiNota, who had already run for a pair of touchdowns in the opening half, scampered down the right sideline for an 80-yard score that put an emphatic end to the evening’s suspense.
“The game came down to three or four big plays,” said Valhalla coach Stephen Boyer, referring to a key interception late in the first half and then the dramatic turn of events in the third quarter that put a halt to the Vikings’ chances. “The end of the half, between that play and then we went down the field and fumbled at the 1-yard line into the end zone. And the next play, the kid went 80 yards and there’s your game.”
“We got a big break on the goal line there,” conceded the Wildcats’ Castellano. “That’s defense, and we capitalized on it. Rob came right back and went 80 yards. That kind of sealed it for us.”
The Wildcats had jumped out to a 7-0 lead just over five minutes into the game as Thomas Iazzetta capped their six-play, 47-yard initial drive with a 14-yard touchdown run and DiNota added the extra point. But the Vikings answered by going 67 yards in six plays in just over two minutes, getting on the scoreboard as Ralph Gonzalez III found Luke Ursillo over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown pass.
The teams were still tied at 7-7 as the first quarter came to an end, but the Wildcats were in the midst of a seven-minute drive that would cover 67 yards and finish with DiNota spinning his way three yards into the end zone to give Westlake the lead for good.
“This is the third game in a row where somebody’s answering a score and we find a way to come right back,” said Castellano. “It happened in the first game against Blind Brook, it happened last week and tonight. When they tied it up, we came right down the field and scored again.”
The Wildcats stretched their advantage to 14 points with a six-play, 90-yard drive that concluded with Andrew DeBiase running 10 yards up the middle for a touchdown with just under two minutes left in the half. DeBiase’s TD was set up by a DiNota 24-yard pass down the left sideline that Iazzetta somehow managed to grab even though it was deflected in traffic.
Suddenly trailing 21-7 with 1:50 left before intermission, the Vikings tried to respond as they started from their own 36-yard line. But a pass by Gonzalez over the middle on first down was picked off by Dylan Ahern, who was tackled at the Vikings’ 33. Just three plays later, DiNota ran left for a 14-yard touchdown and Westlake built a 28-7 halftime cushion.
“You’re down two touchdowns at that time,” said Boyer, asked if he had any second thoughts about passing the ball late in the half. “I mean, do you just run the ball when you’re down 14? We tried to make something happen. The quarterback made a read and the kid jumped inside the slant and made a play.”
The Vikings’ misfortune late in the second quarter carried over to the third with the goal-line fumble that set the stage for DiNota’s electrifying run. Westlake closed the evening’s scoring with a six-yard touchdown run by Nicholas Martinez to cap a 10-play, 78-yard drive that ate up seven minutes of clock and gave the Wildcats a 35-point lead heading to the fourth quarter.
“That’s a good team,” said Castellano about the vanquished Vikings. “There’s a lot of great athletes over there. I’m up all night trying to figure out a way to stop Ferrara.”
“We’ve just got to regroup, put a hard week in next week, get better each day,” said Boyer, whose Vikings now prepare to face unbeaten Edgemont. “I tell the kids you’ve got to push the needle. We’ve either got to go one way or the other, but we’ve got to start moving the needle in the right direction, especially against these very good teams.”
The Wildcats, meanwhile, await their showdown with defending sectional champion Pleasantville on Saturday afternoon. The clash is sure to draw plenty of attention, but Castellano, for one, is not about to get caught up in the hype.
“To be honest with you, it’s a football game,” he said. “I know it’s Pleasantville, but it’s a football game. It’s the middle of the season. It’s another football game. You know, we just wanna come out and play OUR GAME. If we play our game and they’re better than us, they’re better than us. But it’s gonna be a helluva game, I think.”
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.