The preseason rankings are always the scariest. Unfortunately for me, you can still see mine in writing. Sheesh.
The Class AA preseason Top 10 was particularly ugly considering one glaring omission. But North Rockland eventually proved it belonged among the area’s elite yet again.
That’s where the Red Raiders find themselves now, perched alongside the area’s top teams.
Take a peek below at my final rankings — a Top 10 expanded to 12 as an homage to the area’s champions and a final set of class-by-class picks. Feel free to debate them but play nice…support your teams but avoid denigrating the accomplishments of others. I think we’ve all had enough of that at this point in the season.
TOP 10 (er…12)
T1. Iona Prep (6-4, preseason: 3) and Stepinac (9-3, preseason: 2) — A bit of a cop out to be sure, but these teams are tough to differentiate. On one hand, Stepinac had the better season by advancing to the league title game and having more success against quality opponents, namely Xaverian and Chaminade. But Iona won head-to-head and played better than the Crusaders in two tries against St. Anthony’s. Stepinac showed its vast improvement in the AAA final, allowing the Friars no offensive touchdowns in the final 40 minutes. However you rank ‘em, these two teams also pass the eye-test of those who saw them (including several Section 1 coaches) — they were the area’s two top teams in 2011.
3. North Rockland (9-2, preseason: NR) — I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Red Raiders, who rallied from modest (and ill-informed) preseason expectations and a tough opening loss to win the Section 1 Class AA title. So let’s get this straight now: They were unequivocally Section 1’s best team. Their defense and special teams were terrific, as were their string of quality wins. North Rockland went 6-1 against Class AA playoff teams, including a pair of victories vs. runner-up John Jay.
4. John Jay-East Fishkill (8-2, preseason: bubble) — The Patriots had their best season since the inception of the state playoffs, capped by a shutout of five-time defending Class AA champ New Rochelle in the regular season and solid playoff wins over Arlington and Clarkstown South. Despite an inability to get a punt off in the AA final, they nearly recovered from that (and the memory of a three-touchdown regular-season loss) to beat North Rockland, losing the championship game in OT.
5. New Rochelle (7-2, preseason: 1) — Although the Huguenots were largely young and inexperienced, especially at key positions, they nearly came together late in the season. New Ro shrugged off its first regular-season loss since 2008 to win a thriller over rival White Plains in the playoffs. It nearly reached another Class AA final, only falling short to eventual champ North Rockland on the game’s final play. Like the Red Raiders, the Huguenots will enter next season as a Class AA co-favorite.
6. Poughkeepsie (10-1, preseason: 5) — The Pioneers grabbed control of Class A in Week 2 and never relinquished it. Behind Section 1’s clear MVP, QB Josh Oliver, they beat defending champ Harrison twice and won every game by double-digits until the Section 1 final. Oliver and co. then delivered again on a clutch drive in the fourth quarter to beat John Jay and claim the program’s first Section 1 football title.
7. John Jay (9-2, preseason: bubble) — With an improved defense, John Jay proved its opening-game loss was a distant memory when it became the only team to seriously threaten Poughkeepsie deep into a game. The Indians were game in the Section 1 final, falling 28-21 on Poughkeepsie’s last-second drive. Before that moment, they have fended off challenges from Harrison, Rye (twice) and Somers en route to Mahopac.
8. Clarkstown South (7-2, preseason: NR) — With an experienced team that thrived this season thanks to improved health, the Vikings became a surprise contender. Behind a spread running attack and strong defense, they beat rival North in both the regular season and playoffs. It helped South advance to the semifinals, where it lost to John Jay-East Fishkill.
9. White Plains (5-4, preseason: 4) — Until last Thursday’s loss to Turkey Bowl loss to Stepinac, the Tigers had suffered their three losses by a combined 12 points, including a four-point loss to North Rockland and a one-point loss to New Rochelle. White Plains was certainly a “boom-or-bust” team with a “boom” that rivaled any team in the section. Pressure wins over Suffern, Arlington and Yorktown on the heels of an 0-2 start proved as much.
10. Croton-Harmon (11-1, preseason: bubble) — Tough call among the three teams that played deeper into the season than anyone. The nod here goes to the Tigers, whose defense — one of the section’s best — proved its mettle in the second half of the Class B state final vs. high-powered Hornell. Croton’s line play, in particular, moves its team a half step ahead of the other small schools on this list.
11. Rye Country Day (10-0, preseason: NR) — The Wildcats just completed the best season in program history, as you probably know. They won the Fairchester, won a NEPSAC Bowl and finished unbeaten — all school firsts. Speed and athleticism were big reasons why. To those who haven’t seen them, anyone who has said they belong right alongside Section 1’s two state finalists. That’s very high praise for such a tiny school.
12. Dobbs Ferry (11-1, preseason: NR) — Along with North Rockland, the Eagles are the section’s most improved team from Week 1. Just check out the shift in their two meetings with Bronxville (a 15-14 loss to a 38-14 win). Dobbs went on to win two of its three state playoff games handily, including a 39-0 rout over 2008-09 champ Southwestern in the state final. The win gave Dobbs its fourth state championship.
On the bubble: Arlington, Somers, Rye, Ossining, Our Lady of Lourdes, Bronxville.
1. North Rockland
2. John Jay-EF
3. New Rochelle
4. Clarkstown South
5. White Plains
7. Clarkstown North
2. John Jay
7. Tappan Zee
10. Pearl River
2. Our Lady of Lourdes
4. Putnam Valley
1. Dobbs Ferry
7. Blind Brook
8. Albertus Magnus
T1. Iona Prep
3. Mount St. Michael
4. Fordham Prep
1. Rye Country Day
2. Sacred Heart