by MIKE SMITH
If any early-season questions lingered about New Rochelle’s offensive prowess, the Huguenots answered them last weekend. On Saturday, Nov. 7, New Rochelle claimed the Class AA title with a 44-25 victory over John Jay, in a game that showed just how scary the Huguenots can be when they are clicking.Keelan Thomas led the way for the Huguenots, rushing for 113 yards and two touchdowns and returning a kickoff 82 yards for a score in the New Rochelle win.
“It felt great,” Thomas said. “Before the game, I told our players we hadn’t won a section championship in three years so we had to come out hard to win today.”
But even though Thomas’ performance earned him Most Valuable Player honors on the day, he was hardly the only Huguenot who shined on the offensive end. Sophomore Jared Baron added his own rushing touchdown and quarterback Greg Powell ran for 73 yards and a score while going 6-for-11 in the air for 86 yards.
New Rochelle’s lone passing touchdown came when Powell left the game due to an injury, however. In the third quarter, with Powell out, backup Jonathan Saddler launched a 56-yard touchdown pass to Rashon McNeil.
“It’s what we preach in practice: if a backup comes in the game, he’s got to be treated like a starter,” Powell said. “It’s next man up, and we’re only as strong as that last guy.”
Defensively, the Huguenots had their hands full with John Jay quarterback Ryan Schumacher, who threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more. But New Rochelle managed to respond to each Patriot touchdown with a score of their own. The result was a much more one-sided game than the last time the two teams met.
On Sept. 3, New Rochelle edged John Jay 18-16 in the opening game of the year thanks to a last-minute Hail Mary from Powell to McNeill.
“That first game, we weren’t together as a team,” Thomas said. “As the weeks went by, we came together and this game, we all contributed together.”
After the first two weeks of the season, when the Huguenots were unable to break the 20-point mark, the offense has shown a marked improvement. Over its last eight contests, New Rochelle has averaged 35.2 points per game.
Despite the uptick in production, however, Powell believes his team is capable of more.
“We’re pretty good, but I don’t think we’ve hit our ceiling yet,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
The Huguenots will be back in action on Nov. 14, when they take on Section IX Newburgh in the state regional finals at Dietz Stadium in Kingston. The Goldbacks beat Monroe-Woodbury 23-0 on Nov. 7 to advance to the state playoffs, and currently sit at 9-2 on the season.
But as the Huguenots prepare for their next test, Powell said, they will be sure to spend some time to let last Saturday’s win sink in.
“This feels great,” he said. “Since I was a freshman, we haven’t been here, so to get to this point and to win, it’s just hard to describe.”