Rye High Football
Garnets’ Heroic Comeback in Section Finals Comes Up Four Yards Short
By Mitch Silver
Pullquote: The unrelenting rain made the fourth quarter a contest of synchronized swimming rather than football.
Has the Rye High eleven ever played such fearsome foes back to back in the playoffs? After winning their way into the Class A semifinals, all the Garnets had to do to advance was beat undefeated Clarkstown South on the Vikings’ hard-as-a-rock home turf. Oh, and this was the same Vikings team that routed Rye 49-28 three weeks earlier, the team of whom Head Coach Dino Garr said, “To beat them, we have to play a perfect game.”
To make things even more challenging, Rye’s two terrific interior linemen, junior Preston Greto and senior-co-captain Jack Iuliano, both suffered dislocated shoulders during the game. So, one figures, the beaten Garnet and Black would be all black and blue on the long, sad bus ride back from Rockland County.
After a slow start, Rye shocked the home team by scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter. Clarkstown South would come back in the second half and a perfect punt had the Garnets pinned back on their own three-yard-line midway through the final period. That’s when Rye junior QB Declan Lavelle really got hot. With a mix of passes to senior Chad Antico (seven catches for 147 yards and a TD on the evening) and Matt Tepedino (nine grabs for 101), along with handoffs to cousin Brendan Lavelle and quarterback keepers, number 7 drove his team down to the Clarkstown one-yard line before taking it in for the game winner with 5:19 left.
Final score: Rye 28, Clarkstown South 21.
So, it was out of the frying pan and into the cold, drenching rain at Mahopac High School last Friday night in the championship tilt against John Jay-Cross River and its all-everything superstar, Bryce Ford. How formidable is Ford? From the quarterback position, he’s rushed for 1,891 yards on the season, the most of anyone in Section I, 300 more than the number two guy and 1,200 more than anyone for Rye. Those rushes netted his team 23 touchdowns.
And that’s just his ground game. Ford’s thrown for 1,686 yards and 20 TDs through the air. His favorite receiver, Luke Mercer, is the only Section I player to amass more than a thousand yards catching the ball. And Ford plays the whole game on defense as well. He kicks off every time and takes all the points after.
On the Rye side of the ball, Declan Lavelle is a sort-of junior Bryce Ford —throwing, running, and punting the ball when called upon. This year, Lavelle surpassed the Vikings’ star in one respect: he threw for over two thousand yards.
It came down to a simple proposition last Friday night: Could battered and bruised Rye keep up with Bryce Ford and the undefeated (9-0) Indians in the downpour?
If you watched only the first 75 seconds, you’d have said, “Game Over.” Ford ran over right tackle for 24 yards on the game’s first play from scrimmage. On the second play, he lofted a 55-yard strike to Mercer. Then it got worse.
Lavelle overthrew a wide-open Quinn Kelly on the Garnets’ first series. Then he was called for grounding. Rye punted. Ford then proceeded to run three times in a row for a couple of first downs. Then he gained another 12 after an incompletion before connecting with Mercer on Rye’s 9. Next play: Bryce Ford TD run. Bryce Ford PAT. Which made the score Ford 14, Rye 0.
Lavelle would be intercepted on the next series in Garnet territory. Then, a couple of great stops by Iuliano forced you-know-who to punt at the start of the second quarter. Rye went three-and-out before a weak punt of their own gave the Indians the ball at their 40. Ford gashed Rye’s defense again and again (he would rush an astounding 53 times in the game for a total of 240 yards), until he waltzed untouched into the end zone. John Jay 21-Rye 0 with 7:30 left in the half.
After the game, Iuliano was asked what makes Ford so elusive. “He has moves on his moves. It’s crazy.” So is the idea that the Garnets could come back against such an irresistible force. But they did. And fast. Despite a couple of drops by his receivers, Lavelle would connect with Kelly to the Rye 37. Another Kelly grab took the ball to the 45. A short flip to Tepedino had the Garnets across the 50 for the first time in the contest. Then, on a huge play, Brendan Lavelle took the ball down to the John Jay 2, after which he led his cousin Declan to pay dirt. Score: 21-7 with 4:43 to go in the half.
Big break: Rye recovered a squibbed kickoff at the John Jay 28. Matt Tepedino’s two catches took the ball to the 13. Declan Lavelle would take it the rest of the way, scoring four plays later to make it 21-14 at the half.
And that’s how it would stay for the rest of the game. Boring? Not on your life. Rye took the opening kickoff and drove down to the JJ-CR 5, where Declan Lavelle clearly made a first down before stepping out of bounds. Maybe the torrent coming down fogged up the refs’ glasses, but they marked him short by two inches. End of drive.
Next crazy thing: After Ford led his team down to Rye’s 18, two great open-field tackles on consecutive plays — the first by junior Blake Norton and the second by classmate Brendan Lavelle — forced the Indians to go to the air. With 42 seconds left in the period, Quinn Kelly went high to intercept a pass meant for Mercer, landing on his rump in the end zone. Instead of following the rules and calling for a touchback, the nearest ref signaled Kelly had control at the 1-yard line. His own.
The unrelenting rain made the fourth quarter a contest of synchronized swimming rather than football. Back and forth the two teams went. Finally, still trailing by a touchdown, the Rye offense took charge. Receiving a punt at their own 18, Coach Garr called for a couple of Jet Sweeps around end by the speedy Tepedino to slowly but surely march upfield.
A QB scramble took the ball to the home side’s 47. Then the two Lavelles alternated running it to the John Jay 14. With 63 ticks left on the clock, one more Tepedino sweep got a first down and goal to go at the 8. After a Rye timeout, a final Tepedino sweep got it to the 4-yard line. With the clock running down, Declan Lavelle rolled left, looking for running room. A foot from the sideline, he tried to shovel the ball forward…and was intercepted. By, of course, Bryce Ford.
Ford would take a knee on his 53rd carry of the game and the Section title was theirs, 21-14.
Afterwards, I asked Coach Garr if he would have gone for two points had they scored. “Absolutely. If you told me before the season began that I’d have one play to win the title from inside the five, I’d do it every time.”
Sadly, for the locals, he never got to make that call. And while Iuliano was named the game’s outstanding lineman (and a one-armed one at that), he and his teammates will remember they were four yards from a title. Hopefully, they’ll also remember they played one of the most exciting football games in the history of Rye High School.
As Jack Iuliano blocks, Declan Lavelle waits for cousin Brendan (23) to come out of his break.
Coach Dino Garr and the ref don’t always see eye to eye.
Brendan Lavelle speeds past the bench on the way to a first down.
Rye won the battle in the trenches against Clarkstown.