• This is the program’s first outright Fairchester Athletic Association championship.
• This is its first unbeaten regular season.
• This is the first time the Wildcats have been selected to NEPSAC Bowls in consecutive years.
Locally, probably only those at Rye Country Day and our most voracious readers know those facts. But they are a subject of great pride at the school, which, has already completed the best football season in its history. Now, the players want just a bit more — one more win and, perhaps, a little love to go along with it.
If you’re a reader of our weekly game ball segment, you’ll know some of the Wildcats’ top players. Others in their home communities should know them as well, namely Sam Stern (pictured above, second from left) and Chibueze Nwakeze (pictured above, left), who grew up in New Rochelle; Garrett Washington (pictured above, second from right), who grew up in White Plains; and Andrew Miller, who grew up in Harrison.
Those four players — and possibly 6-foot-5, 248-pound tack Dan Alderson-Smith — plan on playing college football next season. The quintet would make it as many as a dozen Rye Country Day grads on college rosters, with Nwakeze’s older brother, Obinna, already at Yale, and Washington as another Division I-AA candidate at defensive back. The younger Nwakeze (Williams) and Miller (Middlebury) have already chosen where they will play ball; Stern’s leaning toward Ithaca.
“We play in a very competitive league. We play kids going to Penn State. We play kids going to Boston College,” fifth-year coach John Calandros (pictured right) said. “Ourselves, we’re going on over 10 players playing in college. Nobody knows these things. How many other programs have that?”
Clearly, the Wildcats have harnessed some legitimate talent. Miller and Stern each rushed for 1,000 yards for the second straight season. They have combined to score 29 touchdowns and each average over 10 yards per carry.
The Wildcats have outscored opponents 361-67 and won every game by three TDs or more.
“Not only are we winning games, but we’re showing that we’re the most dominant team in our league and that we could make a splash in the area,” Stern said. “We’re showing that we could probably play with some of the top teams in Section 1. We feel like we’re putting our team on the map. We’ve made some history here, having our first undefeated season. Hopefully now we win a bowl game.”
Now, the entire team hopes to prove itself once and for all by completing an unbeaten season.
When I met the players Monday at practice, Nwakeze showed me some of the intensity that has helped him record a ridiculous 32 tackles in the last two games. He said last year — when the team had to replace 18 seniors — the goal was just to qualify for a bowl game. Even that seemed lofty at the time. Now, after coming so far at 9-0, he wants to finish the job.
“The main difference is that we set the bar higher. Last year, our goal was mainly to get to a bowl game. But since we’ve already tasted that, that’s not the limit. We want to win,” Nwakeze said. “The thing is, it’s not just about getting there. Winning will solidify our season — a complete undefeated season. 9-1 isn’t undefeated. 10-0 is an undefeated season. We want to get that win.”
Their opponent, Pingree, is 24-2 the last three seasons, including two straight NEPSAC Bowl wins. Last year, the South Hamilton, Mass. school played and won at Gillette Stadium, the home of the Patriots.
This year, as you can read in this week’s story in the Boston Globe, they weren’t quite sure they’d hear their name called on selection Sunday. It was, and now Pingree is all that stands between Rye Country Day and perfection.
DAN RORKE BOWL
Rye Country Day (9-0) vs. Pingree (7-1)
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Where: Loomis Chaffee, Windsor, Conn.
Key players: Rye Country Day — Chibueze Nwakeze (5-8, 180), Sr., G/NG; Andrew Miller (5-9, 175), Sr., RB/LB; Sam Stern (5-7, 165), Sr., HB/DB/KR; Garrett Washington (5-10, 180), Sr., QB/S. Pingree — Kenny Adinkra (5-8, 185), Sr., RB/LB; Jerome Cappadona (5-11, 175), Jr., QB; Nick Antenucci (5-11, 190), Jr., RB/WR/LB; Jack Patrican (6-2, 185), Jr., TE/LB.
Key matchup: Rye Country Day’s speed vs. Pingree’s spread offense.
Outlook: Rye Country Day enters its second straight NEPSAC Bowl after the only undefeated season in the program’s 44-year history. The Wildcats have yet to be tested, outscoring opponents 361-67 and winning every game by three touchdowns or more. Their core consists of a dozen senior leaders, but Pingree brings experience of a different kind. Even though the Massachusetts school lost 16 seniors from last year’s team, it won bowl games the last two seasons, including in 2010 at Gillette Stadium, the home of the Patriots. Cappadona and Adinkra are at the heart of their spread offense, with Adinkra as the focal point. He has exceeded 100 yards rushing in each of his last four games. The Wildcats will try to counter with 1,000-yard rushers Miller and Stern, who have combined to score 29 touchdowns. Nwakeze will be important on defense in stopping Pingree’s running game. He recorded 32 tackles in his last two games alone.
Rye Country Day coach John Calandros on Pingree’s top players:
Kenny Adinkra — “He’s a very strong runner who is good at reading the defense to find running lanes. The last four games he went over 100 yards rushing, including going for 230 in his last game. Defensively, he finds ways to get to the ball when he is unblocked and looks to blow up plays around the line of scrimmage.”
Jerome Cappadona — “He’s a dual threat quarterback in the spread offense. He has a strong arm and quick feet.”
Nick Antenucci — “He’s the team’s leading tackler. He plays a lot in the slot as a receiver but also plays running back when they go a two-back set. He has good hands and makes moves in the open field.”
Jack Patrican — “He has good size at 6-2, and he has good hands and is a solid blocker.”