By Melanie Cane
A two-week break had the Panthers worried. But the undefeated gridsmen had little difficulty dispatching the Burke Catholic Eagles 46-7 in the Class C State quarterfinal November 16 at Kingston. The Panthers scored on their first possession and never looked back. For that first touchdown, quarterback Thomas Pipolo hit four different players — Ryan Morningstar, Pedro M. Cueto, Dom Brescia, and Jakob Calvini. Calvini also kicked for the extra point.
The half ended with the Panthers up 27-0. Pipolo was named offensive MVP after throwing for 149 yards. He was an All-State quarterback last year, as well as an All-State baseball catcher.
The Panthers will meet Hoosick Falls, the Section 2 champions, in the semifinals at Kingston November 23.
The State Championship would be a storybook ending for this group of boys, who on November 2, avenged their 2012 sectional championship loss to first-seeded Woodlands (7-2), beating them 21-7 in the Section 1 Class C final at Mahopac High School. Although the Panthers triumphed over the Highlanders 41-40 in OT on October 12, they’d been eying the sectional title prize for true redemption since last year’s 35-0 defeat.
This was Rye Neck’s first sectional championship, which made it that much more special for the mostly four-year veteran starting team. Coach Nick Ianello recounted that the boys had suffered loss after loss as freshmen and sophomores, but they stuck with the team and each other, and their dedication, hard work, and faith paid off.
Pipolo said the players approached the Woodlands matchup “with fire and passion.”
Rye Neck started the game with a few tricks up their sleeves. They won the coin toss and chose to kick off, only to recover their onside kick, giving them the game’s first possession. They ultimately converted their opening drive to a touchdown on Pipolo’s 31-yard pass to Matt Garcia. Jakob Calvini kicked the extra point.
The score remained 7-0 throughout the rest of the half for two reasons: Rye Neck contained Woodlands’ most dangerous player, Tyrone Barber (who had three touchdowns in five plays in the October 12 game), and Rye Neck’s starting free safety, Chris Richart, made three huge interceptions. Richart said modestly, “I just happened to be in the right spots at the right time. It was great knowing we stopped Woodlands from scoring and that my team had the ball and a chance to score again.”
The Panthers received the kick in the second half and again converted this first possession into a touchdown on a 25-yard rush by junior Dom Brescia, his 15th of the season. Calvini kicked the extra point and it was 14-0 until near the end of the third quarter, when the Highlanders inched the ball up the field on a 16-play drive that resulted in a rushing touchdown by Barber.
With nine minutes left in the game, the Panthers scored their final touchdown on a first and goal hand off to Pedro M. Cueto. Once more, Calvini kicked the extra point.
— Photos by Julia Ianello