By MIKE SMITH
Rye Neck’s players huddled near the sideline at Dietz Stadium on Saturday afternoon, belting out the Motown standard that has become the team’s theme song–and slogan—this year. But after the Panthers’ 14-0 win over reigning state champion Hoosick Falls on Nov. 23, the words “Ain’t no mountain high enough” rang truer than ever.
Although Rye Neck is still one win away from its ultimate goal of a state crown, they are one step closer to the summit.
Rye Neck punched its ticket to Syracuse with a win over Section II champ Hoosick Falls on Nov. 23, ending Hoosick’s 24-game win streak in the process. Though the Panthers may have been Rye Neck’s stiffest test yet, the Black Hats played the same blue-collar game they’ve been known for over the past two years, shutting the perennial Class C power out.
“I don’t want to say we were scared coming in, but we knew this was a good team,” Rye Neck running back Dom Brescia said. “We knew we were going to have to play well.”
Brescia was part of a cadre of Rye Neck backs that helped move the chains all day long. Six Black Hats carried the ball on the afternoon, amassing 366 yards on the ground. Fullback Pedro Cueto led the way with 141 yards on 14 carries and was named Rye Neck’s Offensive Player of the Game.
“We didn’t really throw the ball today,” quarterback Thomas Pipolo said. “But we ran well and our line did a great job.”
The Black Hat defense, tasked with slowing down a potent Hoosick spread attack proved as stout as ever, holding the Panthers to just 214 yards of total offense on the day and forcing a turnover for the first Rye Neck score. Cornerback Matt Garcia had nine tackles on the day to win Defensive Player of the Game honors.
“I was just keyed on [wideout Levi Brewster] this week,” Garcia said. “Our plan coming in was bend, but don’t break; it’s ok to give up five yards on a play, just don’t give up the big one.”
The Panthers will take on Section IV Chenago Forks on Dec. 1 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. This will be Rye Neck’s first appearance in a state championship game. Chenago Forks has been no stranger to the limelight, playing in both the Class C and Class B title games in recent years.
“We know we’re going to have a tough week of practice,” Brescia said. “But we’re just going to do what we’ve done all year.”
“The coaches, they preach that we’re like a family and we’re 30 brothers out there,” Pipolo said. “I can’t really believe this feeling right now.”