The Section 1 playoffs begin Thursday. Twenty-four playoff teams will be whittled down to five champions, to be crowned Nov. 3 and 4 at Mahopac High School.
Here’s a forecast of who and what will decide the winners:
The favorite: New Rochelle. The Huguenots allowed just 13 points six Section 1 games. Joe Clarke and Jason Ceneus give an inconsistent offense enough playmaking to couple with a shutdown defense. The team should be motivated by last year’s semifinal loss to North Rockland, which ended New Rochelle’s five-year reign as Class AA champs.
The contender: North Rockland. A strong defense and running back Nick Connell give the Red Raiders a chance despite a regular season loss to New Rochelle. Connell was a big factor in the second half of their semifinal win over New Ro, but he is vastly improved as the main man. The North Rockland defense is also nearly as good as that of its chief rival.
The dark horse: John Jay-East Fishkill. Can they score against the big two? They didn’t during the regular season. The defense should keep them in any game they play. Like Connell, Rob Haughton has been one of the section’s top backs – and one of its best workhorses.
The underdog: Mamaroneck. The young Tigers were ranked last in the preseason. Their opponents were Nos. 1, 2 and 3. You can’t be a much bigger underdog. But their young core of sophomores, led by Marquez Jackson-Allen, and a strong passing game highlighted by top receiver Mat Marino should make Mamaroneck pesky.
Master strategist: Tom Lynch, North Rockland. The second-year coach will have to help the defending champ overcome New Rochelle’s superior athleticism. He squeezed every ounce of talent out of last year’s team to win the title.
X-factor: Khalil Edney, New Rochelle quarterback. If he’s on, the Huguenots won’t be beat. No team in the draw has a player as capable of dominating a game.
Forecast: This season-long two-team race won’t be determined until the final minutes of the fourth quarter at Mahopac. New Ro is in better position to make that one big play when the time comes.
Championship: New Rochelle over North Rockland.
MVP candidates: Khalil Edney, New Rochelle; Nick Connell, North Rockland.
The favorite: Harrison. The Huskies earn a slight edge over fellow unbeaten Somers based on superior offensive balance. Every skill player – QB Vin Nicita, RBs Kevin Nathanson, Robert Waldman, Mike Amicucci and Jake Marino and WRs Cory Calcagni and Mike Rossi – are all capable of delivering the winning play. No other team can claim as many playmakers.
The contenders: Somers and Poughkeepsie. The defending champ (Poughkeepsie) and the only team it lost to all season are Harrison’s stiffest competition. Somers’ Stefano Bicknese and Poughkeepsie’s D’Andre Smith are probably Class A’s top MVP candidates. They’ll need to deliver – and big – but supporting actors Joe Festo and Connor Vlasaty (Somers) and Jahvan Maxwell (Poughkeepsie) must help balance their teams’ attack.
The dark horse: Sleepy Hollow. The Headless Horsemen appear to have the easiest draw among contenders. If they can reach the final, electric playmakers like QB Devin Lopez and RB Dominic Onwe could be game-changers. The key will be how well their defense holds up playing three games in 11 days with a thin roster.
The underdog: Brewster. The Bears are unbeaten, but they beat just one playoff team (Saunders) during the regular season and remain a mystery. QB Brian McNeill is capable of posting big numbers. The key against the stiffest competition will be how well a strong defense led by DE Frank Golinello holds up.
Master strategist: Art Troilo Jr., Harrison. A combination of balance and blowouts kept Troilo’s key players rested. If anyone can withstand three games in 11 days, it’s them.
X-factor: Stefano Bicknese, Somers. The senior has arguably been Class A’s MVP. Even Harrison and Poughkeepsie – two of the section’s most athletic teams – will have trouble keeping chase in the open field.
Forecast: While Sleepy Hollow cruises into the final, Harrison needs every minute to survive Poughkeepsie and Somers. But it will. The Huskies could play a closer-than-expected final because of the wear and tear, but they have the depth to survive.
Semifinals: Harrison over Somers. Sleepy Hollow over Brewster.
Championship: Harrison over Sleepy Hollow.
MVP candidates: Vin Nicita and Mike Amicucci, Harrison; D’Andre Smith, Poughkeepsie; Stefano Bicknese, Somers; Devin Lopez, Sleepy Hollow.
The favorite: Our Lady of Lourdes. Despite recent injuries to leading rusher Bryce Gioia and quarterback Dean Rotiger, the Warriors have continued to roll. They outscored their three playoff foes 89-19 during the regular season, including a shutout of semifinal foe Croton.
The contender: Pleasantville. The Panthers lost 21-6 to Lourdes, but it could’ve been closer without mistakes just before halftime. Their defense is tough. They’ll need playmakers Nick Greto, Nick Pedlow and Charlie Montgomery to find the end zone.
The dark horse: Nanuet. The Golden Knights played their best game last weekend, beating Croton 41-7 in a must-win game. QB Ryan Hanney went down again during the game. His absence earlier this season turned the offense over to workhorse Dan Breit, who has been one of Class B’s top backs. And, remember: Nanuet only lost 7-6 to semifinal opponent Pleasantville during the regular season. These teams are close.
The underdog: Croton-Harmon. The two-time defending champ has been beset by injuries along its line. Playing a physical opponent like Lourdes won’t help. The Tigers will need time and space to let their backs loose.
Master strategist: Brian Walsh, Lourdes. The former Brewster coach has experience coaching a state title contender. He also has a significant talent advantage, and that’s a scary combination.
X-factor: Turnovers. Croton, Nanuet and Pleasantville simply can’t afford mistakes if they want to upset Lourdes. It will require a perfect game to win.
Forecast: Big Lourdes rolls…big. The biggest question is who the Warriors will meet in the final.
Championship: Lourdes over Pleasantville.
MVP candidates: Bryce Gioia, Devlin Brennan, Lourdes; Charlie Montgomery, Pleasantville; Dan Breit, Nanuet.
The favorite: Woodlands. The Falcons beat Bronxville and Dobbs Ferry by 39 combined points. Their recent wipeouts of Dobbs and Tuckahoe were especially impressive. QB Justin Riccio has Class AA or A weapons on a Class C offense. They average over 40 points per game.
The contender: Bronxville. No team played Woodlands tougher, and the Broncos weren’t even at full strength. With Luke Marrone back, their defense is improved, but they’ll still need to keep pace offensively.
The dark horse: Rye Neck. The Panthers did not allow a single point all season, but have been relatively untested. A stable of backs led by Jakob Calvini and Ryan Morningstar will be their workhorses. Dobbs, their semifinal opponent, has a strong history against Rye Neck in the postseason and will instantly be the Panthers’ stiffest competition.
The underdog: Dobbs Ferry. Tabbing the state champ an underdog may seem counterintuitive, but Woodlands just isn’t a good matchup. The defense struggled tackling the Falcons’ playmakers. The Eagles would need their best game – perhaps by far – to repeat.
Master strategist: Jim Moran, Dobbs Ferry. The second-year coach will need all his wits to repeat. Dobbs’ initial plan of attack could’ve been more effective with better execution.
X-factor: Woodlands’ special teams. Kick to Tyrone Barber at your own risk. No player in the section has returned more kicks for scores.
Forecast: Woodlands’ offense is a machine. It will churn out two more wins…and maybe more beyond Mahopac.
Championship: Woodlands over Dobbs Ferry.
MVP candidates: Justin Riccio and Tyrone Barber, Woodlands; Tim Soave, Dobbs Ferry.
The favorite: Tuckahoe. The Tigers have stubbed their toes the last few weeks after a 4-0 start. A tie with Haldane and losses to Bronxville and Woodlands should be a wake-up call for a team once viewed as a potential state champion.
The contender: Haldane. The defending champ tied Tuckahoe three weeks ago. They won’t be afraid in the rematch. They still have pieces from last year’s Class D titlests and second-year coach Jeff Sniffen is 1-0 in championship games vs. Tucakhoe.
The underdogs: Palisade Prep and Yonkers Montessori. These new programs would be happy to compete in the semifinals. Palisade Prep is in just its second season, but has a strong back in Brandon Tate. Yonkers Montessori is a new program altogether and is still in search of its first win.
Master strategist: John D’Arco, Tuckahoe. The two-time state champ knows how to motivate his Tigers for a new challenge. He’s been down just about every road as a coach and understands the importance of retooling for the playoffs.
X-factor: Tuckahoe’s defense. It has struggled in recent weeks after allowing just seven points in the first three games. A group led by linebackers Kayvon Reid and Shyheim Nixon can be dominant.
Forecast: The regular season tie will motivate Tuckahoe to refocus when it matters most. The Tigers also have the most talent on both sides of the football.
Championship: Tuckahoe over Haldane.
MVP candidates: Shyheim Nixon and Nick Reisman, Tuckahoe; Bayley Semple, Haldane.
Top: North Rockland’s Danny Noel, Joey Scheffold and John Dapolito tackling New Rochelle’s Jon Forrest.
Second photo: Brewster quarterback Brian McNeill.
Third photo: Nanuet’s Luke Panaro (20) and Chris Simonsen (28).
Fourth photo: Bronxville’s Aaron Srebnik.
Bottom: Tuckahoe’s Daryl Taylor.