By MIKE SMITH
On Nov. 16, the Tuckahoe Tigers football season ended with a rare loss to the Section IX champs from Chester, as the Tigers fell to the Hambletonians 26-21 at Mahopac High School.
Although the Tigers may have been accustomed to beating Chester–having won the last six match-ups between the squads–head coach John D’Arco, Sr., said this year’s Hambletonian squad was a tougher nut to crack than in previous years.
“I think this was probably the best team they’ve had,” D’Arco said. “But they didn’t come down to play in the game this time, they came to win it.”
Trailing 26-14 late in the fourth quarter, Tuckahoe’s offense gained some momentum thanks to a scoring drive that was capped when quarterback Mike Castracucco hit Rami Higgins for an 18-yard touchdown. On the ensuing possession, however, the Hambletonions–facing a fourth-and-five situation, elected to fake a punt, converting the first down, effectively closing the door for the Tigers’ hopes.
“If they punted, we would have had to go about 70 yards in four minutes, but the way our offense was playing, that was about a 50-50 chance,” D’Arco said. “But that was an excellent call, a real gamble and it was very unexpected.”
Tuckahoe’s stout defense played the second half shorthanded, as captain Mike Arborn suffered an ankle injury at the end of the first half and would not return. Arborn has been the anchor for Tuckahoe’s 4-3 defensive scheme for the past two years and was named the outstanding defensive player in the Tigers’ Section I championship over Haldane just one week prior.
“He’s an all-state football player and as a middle linebacker, he’s the key to our 4-3 defense,” D’Arco said. “They came out in the second half in a Power I, so losing him hurt us mentally and physically.”
Despite winning another Section I crown, the season was a trying one for the Tigers, who faced a host of challenges both on and off the field. Squaring off against Class C powers like Rye Neck, Dobbs Ferry, Woodlands and Bronxville in the regular season proved a stiff test for the Class D Tigers, who finished the year with a 5-5 record.
“It was a difficult schedule, probably the toughest we’ve had here. Even those teams like Peekskill and Roosevelt, even if they weren’t great teams, were still physical,” D’Arco said. “But these kids gave everything they had this year, they were resilient.”
The Tigers will again be the favorites to claim a Class D crown next year, as the squad is slated to return around 20 players from the 2013 team along with a couple of transfers from Fordham Prep.
“I think we’re going to have a very strong team next year,” D’Arco said. “Especially w-ith guys like [running back] Anthony Castracucco, [lineman] Joe Dedvukaj and [fullback] Enoch Penney-Larea, those guys are going to be our leaders.”