The Rye Country Day Boys’ Varsity Football team defeated Poly Prep 38-6 to win the 2023 MIFL championship. It was a gratifying win for the Wildcats who were routed by Poly Prep in last year’s final.
“After getting blown out by Poly last year and seeing the coaches and seniors crying, it was always going to be personal,” said senior Co-Captain Trey Stevens. “Winning the championship, especially against Poly, meant more than any game I’ve ever played. I think we created a legacy and a standard that future Rye Country Day teams can get behind. There is no better way to end your high school career than going out with a ring.”
This year’s success revolved around 13 tightly-knit seniors, according to Coach John Calandros. “I knew we had a very strong senior class and that if we put everything together, we had the potential not only to reach the championship game, but to win the title. That’s been the message since day one.”
Senior Cole Denson summarized the team’s mindset for the season: “It was all or nothing. A lot of us were going out there for the last time and giving it our all in the sport we love.”
The Metropolitan Independent Football League championship game was held under the lights at SUNY Purchase on November 10. Poly Prep’s Blue Devils started off strong, with a touchdown on their first drive, but after that, it was all Wildcats.
Denson emerged as a standout performer with 212 total yards and four touchdowns. The “viral” moment of the night was Luca Strazzini’s connection with sophomore Amir Hogans on a 55-yard touchdown pass. Hogans caught the ball with the defender tangled in his arms and managed to haul in the ball for a score. The catch has been reposted by Barstool and LoHud sports and is quickly gaining traction as sports reporter Kevin Devaney Jr. deemed it the “High School Catch of the Year.”
Defensively, the Wildcats put on a master class. Chris Emmit had two critical interceptions and a fumble recovery. Patrick Leonard had 13 total tackles, Stevens three tackles, and Buck Coquellete a critical interception.
The championship victory came after the team overcame a series of setbacks during the regular season. Five impact players were injured, including captain Barret Pennington and two-way starter Zander Stemple. Calandros said his team overcame the obstacles, because every player stepped up when needed. Additionally, having players ready to play both offense and defense contributed to the program’s success.
This year was a fresh start, with new quarterback and captain Strazzini joined by co-captains Stevens, Nick Vlasto, Denson, and Pennington. The roster started the season ranked first in the league by the other coaches in the MIFL.
Strazzini stepped up as a leader of the team. “As a quarterback, you feel the responsibility to make sure your team is tightly knit,” he said. “I made it my goal to not only play the best I could, but also be a leader off the field.”
Denson and Strazzini both pointed to the turning point in the season: defeating The Pingry School on their own turf, at homecoming. Denson said the win boosted team morale, and Strazzini added that the game gave the Wildcats much-needed momentum going into the playoffs.
With a 6-2 record, the Wildcats received a first-round bye in the playoffs. In the next round, a home game against Morristown-Beard, the Wildcats had balanced scoring from Patrick Leanord, Theo Nicholes, and Denson. Vlasto led the defense in tackles, and the Wildcats won 40-10 and advanced to face Poly Prep in the final.
Football will continue for Denson, who this month committed to playing at Duke University, and Stevens, who will be playing at Colby College. “I’m excited to play on the next level and have more opportunities to keep playing football,” Denson said. “But I am going to hold onto these high school games for the rest of my life, because these moments are special.”