Cullen Coleman is about to put the hurt on Pingry’s DB.
Rye Country Day Football
Wildcats Let Lead Slip Away, Lose to Pingry 14-7
By Mitch Silver
Their first Metropolitan Independent Football League matchup of the season Saturday was everything Coach John Calandros and his Wildcat football team could have wished for. They were playing at home against an 0-2 team in Pingry, a New Jersey private school. What’s more, they’d be facing the visitors’ backup quarterback; the starter suffered a broken ankle in their opener against Lawrenceville.
Best of all, Rye Country Day had in its huddle the most heavily recruited Westchester football player in 20 years: senior linebacker/running back Cullen Coleman. Coleman was coming off a 140-yard rushing game against Woodlands. He’ll play ball next year at Northwestern, after turning down offers from Stanford, Cal, Alabama, and Michigan, among several dozen others. What could go wrong?
Pretty much everything. The game started out all right. After a couple punts back and forth, junior quarterback Robert Thalheimer-Santamaria lofted a perfect pass over the middle to sophomore Geordy Varian, who took it to the house for a 7-0 lead after just six minutes. That would be the beginning and end of Rye Country Day’s scoring on the afternoon.
Not that they weren’t highlights. Immediately after their score, junior Oliver Kies popped a neat little onside kick off a Pingry player and into the home side’s hands. Good, but not cigar: Country Day was stopped on the ensuing series.
Late in the second quarter it was Pingry’s turn to drive down the field. With time running down, up popped that man Coleman to intercept a pass at the six-yard-line. Then, halftime!
The third quarter saw both times keep it on the ground. The Wildcats stalled on attack and tried a fake punt, which failed by inches. A few minutes later, a tipped Pingry punt traveled all of nine yards, setting up Rye Country Day at the visitors’ 37. Coleman rumbled for a first down at the 27. That was pretty much all the offense Coach Calandros’ team would generate.
After another three-and-out, Oliver Kies was able to pick up a one-bouncer from his long snapper and still punt it 40 yards down the field. But a penalty gave Pingry the ball at their own 40. Then a second-down handoff over left tackle would spring their senior running back Sam Williams free for 35 yards. He still had daylight ahead when Coleman caught him from behind.
But the touchdown-saving tackle only postponed the inevitable. A couple of QB sneaks and a forward fumble gave the New Jersey side the ball at Country Day’s three. One more sneak and the game was tied with a little more than five minutes to play.
Then disaster struck. Kies would attempt a third-down halfback option pass that was intercepted at Rye’s 41. After a gain of two, Williams took the next handoff, barely averted a tackler, and swept around left end for the score.
Kies returned the kickoff to the home side’s 33. With a little more than two minutes to play, junior Gideon Prempeh made a terrific move from left to right and carried the ball to the Pingry 45. Coleman ran it down to the 35 for another first down. Then he ran left, stiff-arming a tackler in the process before stepping out of bounds to stop the clock. The defenders took umbrage and gang-tackled Coleman well after he crossed the sidelines, tacking on a 15-yard penalty.
With the ball 20 yards from paydirt and the clock showing a minute to go, Thalheimer-Santamaria dropped back and threw for Kies in the left corner. But sophomore linebacker Zach Ventura stretched all of his 5’11” frame and snagged it for the Big Blue from Basking Ridge.
Afterwards, Coach Calandros was still upbeat. “This is a young team. I see the potential. We lost our opener on rookie mistakes. We’re learning. There are better days ahead.”
If so, those days will start with Saturday’s away game at the Montclair-Kimberley School.