By MIKE SMITH
On Nov. 16, the Rye Neck Panthers made their first foray into the state football playoffs with aplomb, routing Section IX champions Burke Catholic with a 47-6 win in Kingston.
With the win, the 10-0 Pan-thers earn the right to take on Section II’s Hoosick Falls on Nov. 23 with a trip to Syracuse hanging in the balance.
As usual, the Black Hat defense was stout on Saturday, holding Burke–and star running back Matt Pryzbocki–to just six points on the contest. With first-round bye week heading into Saturday’s contest, the Panthers were able to scout their opponents and noted that stopping Pryzbocki, who rushed for six touchdowns in the Section IX championship, would be a necessary ingredient in a winning formula.
“It was definitely a focal point for us throughout the week,” senior captain Jakob Calvini said. “We knew that, if we wanted to win the game, [stopping Pryzbocki] was key. And everybody did their job.”
Over the course of the past two years, Rye Neck’s defense has become the team’s calling card, something teams from around the state are finding out in the playoffs. Aside from one 41-40 game against Woodlands early in the season, the Panthers have allowed just 28 points on the year. On Nov. 16, they held onto a shutout over the Eagles for the better part of the game, only surrendering points in the fourth quarter.
“We definitely pride ourselves on our defense, it’s the most important thing we preach,” Calvini said. “They don’t say defense wins championships for nothing.”
Rye Neck’s offense has also blossomed this year and has become a truly versatile attack. Against Burke Catholic, Dom Brescia led the way on the ground, rushing for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Tom Pipolo had a breakout game under center, throwing for 173 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to wideout Matt Garcia.
With a tough Hoosick Falls team up next, the Panthers know they will need to have a similar showing in the semis. Hoosick Falls is the reigning Class C champion and are riding a 24-game win streak heading into the Nov. 23 contest. Hoosick’s quarterback, Garrett Wright, has had a tremendous year, throwing for 1,401 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
“We know they’re a great team and defending state champs,” Calvini said. “We know they run the spread and we’re definitely going to have our hands full this week.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Dietz Stadium. With a chance to go to Syracuse for the first time in the program’s history, Calvini said, the team–and the fanbase–is energized. Panther fans filled the bleachers last week and will likely do so again this weekend.
“We love it when we have a huge fan base cheering us on,” the captain said. “You have a big play, you hear the crowd go crazy, that’s really an advantage for us up there.”