Rye Country Day Football
Wildcats Top Poly Prep 34-28 for Metro League Title
By Mitch Silver
When the Fairchester Athletic Association dissolved its football league last year, member schools went scrambling for teams to play. Some, like St. Luke’s of New Canaan, decided to go it alone. Rye Country Day joined the Metropolitan Independent Football League. The MIFL is a collection of familiar names like Fieldston, Hackley, and Hopkins. But it also includes New Jersey powers Morristown-Beard and The Pingry School.
No matter. The Wildcats raced through their inaugural season in the Metro league, demolishing Fieldston 43-0 in the playoff semifinals before hosting Brooklyn’s Poly Prep in the championship game last Friday. Having shut out the Blue Devils 20-0 a month earlier and riding a seven-game winning streak, Coach John Calandros’ squad seemed to have a cakewalk to the league title.
Maybe they were overconfident. Maybe they still had the words of Fieldston’s head coach ringing in their ears. After the 43-0 whipping the Wildcats administered two weeks ago, Gus Ornstein said, “That’s as physical a team as our guys have ever seen. I mean, the Coleman brothers are tough and they go looking for contact. Whether they’re running the ball or playing defense, they’re looking to hit you.”
And it wasn’t just Cullen and Cam doing the damage; practically the whole roster got in on the act. Country Day scored on its second possession against the Eagles via a one-yard run by Allan Houston III. They upped it to 14-0 minutes later when Conrad Crakes scooped up a fumble and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
Julian Martelly then went 75 yards for another score midway through the second quarter before quarterback Nick Owens added an 11-yard scoring run and Cullen Coleman closed out the half with a 31-yard touchdown jaunt. Just that fast it was 36-0.
The Grandview Boys started off even faster in the title game. Senior Justin Mandell brought the opening kickoff back to his 45-yard-line. Then classmate QB Nick Owens handed off to junior Cullen Coleman on a sweep right that swept him all the way into the end zone. The point after was missed wide right.
The rest of the first quarter was all stop/start thanks to three tactical timeouts sandwiched around an injury to a Poly interior lineman, who had to be stretchered off the field.
The second quarter saw the Wildcats punt after Owens overthrew Cullen’s older brother Cam over the middle. Cam suffered a hamstring strain on the next play, and he would sit out the next two stanzas. But Cullen picked up the slack, breaking tackles for a 40-yard run. A few plays later, he’d roar through the Poly line for another score. Coach Calandros went for two, and Owens connected with Martelly in the left corner. Score:14-0. And the rout was on.
Or maybe it wasn’t. Somehow the Indians’ QB, short-arming the ball like a guy playing darts in a pub, took advantage of a Wildcat blitz to hit his receiver for a score with two minutes left in the half.
Then Houston got into the act. Chosen to the pre-season Elite Eleven by the Journal News, Houston shrugged off nagging injuries early in the season to come on like gangbusters in the playoff. Now he made two fantastic catches on his way to a touchdown with under a minute to play. Once again, though, the point–after was missed, a miscue that would come back to haunt the locals.
Poly Prep received the second-half kick but went nowhere thanks to a couple of Conrad Crakes QB sacks. The Wildcats would go three and out, punting it back to Poly on their own 16. But a 21-yard connection by the Blue Devils was followed by the longest completion of the day — 65 yards to speedy Bobby Coll III and paydirt. It was 20-13 Rye after the missed point–after.
Then, disaster: after another three-and-out, a poor punt handed the Indians the ball on the home 32. A short pass out to the flat and two broken tackles later, Poly Prep was attempting a point–after to tie the game. It just squeaked over the bar.
With Cam Coleman injured and the visitors on a rampage, would the Wildcats fold? No way. Owens hit brother Cullen at midfield. Then senior Alex Kelly rumbled over left tackle for a big first down. A handoff to Martelly from the Poly 5 found the end zone, and an Owens-to-Kelly pass added the two points–after. Rye Country Day 28, Poly Prep 20 heading into the final period.
With both teams tiring, Poly Prep called on a 6’4”, 265-pounder named Jason Bissette Jr. Bissette put his team on his back, running for nearly 50 yards on four carries behind the blocking of 235-pound eighth grader Justin Mondesir with the clock ticking down, culminating in an 11-yard rumble over the left side into the end zone. The two-point conversion tied it up again at 28-all.
With nine minutes to go and the league championship balanced on a knife edge, the limping Cam Coleman re-entered the game, giving his crew a psychological (and physical) lift. Justin Mandell took advantage by running the ensuing kickoff back to midfield. The Wildcats eventually had to punt, but they downed that kick inside Poly’s 1. The Indians would punt it back to the Wildcats’ 46 with three and a half minutes left in the game.
Owens found Crakes for five yards, then took it upon himself to slash through a tiring defense down to the Poly Prep 10-yard-line. From there, Allan Houston delivered the coup de grâce, taking it in to make the score 34-28. The pass to Mandell on the attempt for two was no good.
Would the Brooklynites take advantage of that miss? They certainly tried, but Crakes came up with another big stop on third down with a minute to go. Finally, the visitors put a fourth-down heave up for grabs. Senior linebacker Franklin Hong rose to the challenge…literally…and picked it off. Game, set, match.
It wasn’t a cakewalk. But it <was> a championship.
Cullen Coleman sees daylight ahead.
Conrad Crakes finds himself all alone.
Cam Coleman, being held, suffered a hamstring strain on this play.