He and his staff have watched Cambridge with admiration during throughout the years. So when they saw the Section 2 small-school power matched with Moriah in the state quarterfinals, they allowed themselves to look ahead and started gathering information. After all, Cambridge had moved down to Class D after four seasons in C. So when Moriah won 14-6, D’Arco was stunned. That work went for naught.
“It was a pretty big upset,” D’Arco said. “We were gearing up for Cambridge.”
Tuckahoe lost to Cambridge in the state semifinals in 1999, 2003 and 2005. But the Tigers don’t have a perfect history against Moriah, which beat them 21-6 at Dietz Stadium just two years ago. But this is a different, more physically and mentally mature Tuckahoe team, one with great talent at the skill positions and strength at the line of scrimmage.
D’Arco described Moriah as “physical,” and as a team with an offense that is “80 to 90 percent on the ground, tackle to tackle.” But from what he can gather after watching overtime thrillers against Ticonderoga and Cambridge, Moriah hasn’t faced an opponent this dynamic.
“The teams up there are tough and physical but they are not speed oriented,” he said. “I don’t think they have faced anybody with our speed and athletic ability.”
D’Arco’s biggest fear is Moriah’s ability to control the ball and burned clock. It was an effective method of attack against Cambridge, which committed costly mistake on the rare occasions it had the ball.
Tuckahoe, of course, can strike quickly. Those striking are almost too many to name, but are led by the program’s all-time leading rusher Jarett Sommer and wingbacks Luis Esquilin, Gary Jennings and Shyheim Nixon. Nixon, a sophomore, returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in last week’s 43-8 victory over Chester, but speed isn’t Tuckahoe’s only strength. That’s why the Tigers arrive as a favorite to advance to the Dome for the first time since 2006.
“They’re tough and they’re physical, but I have our guys ready for a tough, physical battle,” D’Arco said. “We have some big guys up front,” noting a group led by Kevin Chen and Johnathan Jubilee.
That’s the physical. Tuckahoe proved its mental acumen two weeks ago in the Class D final against Haldane when it flaked off the rust after a bye week and rolled to four first-half TDs. “The intensity and focus was there,” D’Arco said.
He wasn’t as impressed early last week with the results but couldn’t help but admire his team’s approach.
“You knew there was a sense of confidence there and that we were going to get the ball in the end zone,” he said.
The primary focus of Tuckahoe’s defense this week will be Nick Gilbo, Moriah’s 240-pound fullback. Gilbo ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns against Cambridge last week, establishing season highs in carries (30) and yards. And when it’s not Gilbo, Moriah rides tailback Tom Ida. The two combined for 47 carries and 241 yards last week and have 1,637 yards for the season, according to that clip and my math.
One player who stood out on film to D’Arco was Moriah’s right tackle Brandon Stoddard, who, at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, will be the biggest player on the field.
In the past — heck, even two years ago — big, durable backs and a hulking lineman may have fazed Tuckahoe. Not now. With a deep and talented senior class, so much has changed.
“The confidence level is there,” D’Arco said. “That comes with maturity. With maturity comes focus. But this hasn’t been a short process. We’ve been working toward this for three or four years.”