By MIKE SMITH
On Nov. 2, the Rye Neck Panthers laid claim to the Class C title with a convincing win over Woodlands, beating the Falcons 21-7 at Mahopac High School. For the Black Hats, the win wasn’t one that simply affirmed their flawless Section I record this season, but was also a testament to the strides the program has made in recent years.
The Panthers were routed by the Falcons in last year’s Class C finals, and an early-season meeting between the two squads this year, which Rye Neck won, was a 41-40 overtime shootout, so many came into Saturday’s contest prepared for more offensive fireworks.
The Panthers, however, had other ideas. After recovering an onside attempt on the opening kickoff, the Panthers found the endzone on a fourth-down touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Pipolo to Matt Garcia. That would be the only score of the half as the Panthers came away with
two interceptions—both by Chris Richart, who added another pick in what amounted to Woodland’s final chance in the fourth quarter.
“I told Richart after the game that he picked a great time to have the best game of his life,” senior captain Jakob
Dom Brescia had the one of the game’s biggest runs to open the third quarter, a 24-yard scamper that gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead before Woodlands’ star Tyrone Barber got his squad on the board late in the quarter.
Containing Barber, who entered the game less than 200 yards shy of the 2000-yard mark on the season, was a priority for the Panthers, who knew full well that, even if they couldn’t stop Barber altogether, they could limit his effectiveness. Barber finished the day with 162 yards on a whopping 39 carries.
“He’s a great player and it really took a team effort against him,” said Calvini. “We knew he was going to gain yards, but the key was not letting him break a big one. We were fine with giving up five or ten yards as long as it wasn’t a big play.”
With his team up 14-7, Pedro M. Cueto scored the Panthers’ third—and final—touchdown on a one-yard dive that all but sealed the game.
“Coming out in the second half, I just knew I had to run hard,” said Cueto. “That’s all I was trying to do.”
At 9-0 on the season, the Panthers received a first-round bye in the state tournament and will be back in action next week in the state-semifinals at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
Although the group is well aware that there is much work to be done leading up to the game, they will at least have a day or two to let the win sink in.
“Coming from where we were to where we are, it’s hard to take in,” Pipolo said after the game. “I honestly don’t even know what I’m feeling right now.”