The two squads ended the season with a win apiece.
Rye High Football
Garnets Overcome Tuskers 28-20 to Reach Finals
By Mitch Silver
They say, “Go big or go home.” Declan Lavelle went very big Friday night in leading his Rye High football team to a thrilling 28-20 comeback victory over Somers. The win puts the Garnets into the Class A Finals against Yorktown, victors in the other semifinal over top seed John Jay-Cross River.
Very big? Make that ginormous. All Lavelle did on the night was account for 362 yards of offense — 120 with his legs and 242 with his arm — and rack up all four Rye touchdowns, three of them through the air to his sterling receivers. The total team effort that he led left the home crowd stunned.
But, hey, turnabout is fair play. Back in September, Rye let a 24-7 second-half lead slip through their fingers on this very same turf (where?). That 28-24 defeat, the only one on their season, had the Garnets sky-high when the game began. But at first, the rematch looked as if Rye and Head Coach Dino Garr had merely returned to the scene of the crime for another helping of chagrin. The Tusker tandem of bruising Jack Kaiser and speedy Charlie Balancia ran the ball early on. When Balancia romped 39 yards on a counter play, he put his team up 7-0.
The Garnets would come back later in the quarter, recovering a fumble at their own 44. Matthew Tepedino then made a great leaping catch at the Somers’ 40. Lavelle got five on a quarterback draw before another grab by Tepedino and a roughing call on Somers gave Rye a first down at the 12. Lavelle deked right, shimmied left, and crossed the goal line. Freddie Clarke nailed the first of his four successful PATs.
After Somers went three-and-out, Tepedino took the punt in traffic at his own five-yard-line. He nearly went down before running the pigskin out past the 30. A face mask penalty set up Rye at their own 45. Sophomore Caden Whaling would gain eight yards on a couple of runs before Lavelle’s only slip-up of the night: he fumbled the snap from center. The quarter ended on a four-yard Kaiser run. Garnets 7, Tuskers 7.
The second quarter was all Somers. Balancia, Kaiser, and QB Jackson Kossow ran around and through the Garnet defense. Though seniors Hayden Reno and James Mackle would combine for a big stop on Kaiser at their own 14, the guy who ran for 1,000 yards this season drove it to the five on the next play before Kossow ran the Jets (??) sweep left and dove for the pylon. Halfway through the quarter, it was 14-7 for the home team.
The next series saw the riverboat gambler in Coach Garr come to the surface. When Lavelle was stopped on a third-and-two keeper at his own 44, the Coach left his punter on the bench and went for another Lavelle run. He would lose six inches, turning the ball over to Somers.
Two Balancia sweeps and two Kaiser bangs up the middle put the ball at the Rye 9. Then Kossow reared up and threw his only pass of the half, finding Kenny McGrane at the back of the end zone. But the point-after snap was fumbled, making it 20-7 Somers with 35.6 seconds left. The Tuskers would receive the second-half kickoff, so things looked extra bleak on the visitors’ side of the field.
But there’s magic in the Garnet offense. Lavelle threw for a first down to big James Mackle at the 45 before finding another senior receiver, Quinn Kelly, at the 50. After an incompletion, Lavelle and Co. faced a 4th down with four yards to go. Yup, they went for it. Lavelle gained six for a clock-stopping first down and then another QB run left Rye 30 yards from paydirt with the scoreboard showing just 2.3 seconds.
This was the turning point of the game and the season. Afterwards, Coach Garr would say, “These guys have been together for a long, long time so they know what they have to do.” But knowing it and doing it are two separate things. Lavelle did both. He Hail Mary’d the ball 30 yards on a line toward the waiting hands of Tepedino, part of a crowd in the end zone. He’d dropped a key throw in the September loss, but wouldn’t let it happen again. The guy with six catches on the night squeezed the oblate spheroid and the joyous Garnets raced to the locker room down by 20-14 at the half.
Would a regrouped Somers squad, mentored by Section 1’s all-time winningest coach, Tony DeMatteo, return to the smash-mouth football that was so successful in the first half? Or would Section 1’s all-time second-winningest coach, Dino Garr, come up with the answer? Could third-ranked Rye turn the tables on the number two team and move on?
They could and they did. On defense, the Garnets allowed just two first downs in the entire second half. When Somers punted with the wind after their first series, Rye was forced to start at their own 4. A screen pass to the right would go for a first down before Tepedino once more skyed to haul in a pass at the Garnet 41. Lavelle ran it to the 45 before two incompletions set up yet another fourth down play for Rye.
This time, Lavelle connected for a first down at Somers’ 48. He found Quinn Kelly open at the 25. It was third down and eight yards to go when unsung senior Mark Surhoff caught the ball Lavelle sent him for a 23-yard scoring strike. Rye went up for the first time with Clarke’s conversion, 21-20.
On the next series, the Tuskers were forced to punt thanks to a big stop by Reno and sophomore Jack Garnett on Balancia. Rye took over on their 37 halfway through the period. On third and 6, Lavelle found Tepedino yet again on a crossing route. A pass to cousin Brendan Lavelle at the Somers 16 was followed by a Lavelle run up the middle in which the entire Garnet team pushed the pile forward for another first down at the 8. Two incompletions set up third and goal to go. That man Tepedino was at it again, lining up on the right wing and crossing left. He came open, waited, and took Lavelle’s pass for the clincher.
Rye had come back from two touchdowns behind to eight points up in less than 10 and a half minutes. The margin would have been even larger when, halfway through the fourth, Tepedino hauled in a 26-yarder at Somers’ 3. But a holding penalty on Rye negated the scoring chance.
No matter. The Garnets burned a few more minutes off the clock before punting, finally, to the Somers’ 12. With four minutes left in the game, Jack Kaiser took the handoff for the final time in his storied career. The irresistible force that he is was met by an immovable object in senior linebacker Peter Patouhas, who stopped Kaiser inches from the first down, as a lengthy measurement would eventually prove.
Declan Lavelle would spend what was left of the game slowly walking his team up to the line and then carrying the ball on four consecutive carries before taking a knee three times to run out the clock.
Which is better, to “flip the script” and avenge the season’s only defeat? Or to advance to the finals against fifth-seeded Yorktown, a long-time Rye nemesis? Matthew Tepedino’s response: “We’re not done. We have a game next week.”
All will be revealed November 8 at 7:30 p.m. on the Mahopac High School field when Dino Garr’s Kardiac Kids go for it all.