SLEEPY HOLLOW — They arrived unannounced, like gifts from the football gods, dropped down at midseason to round out a strong but flawed roster of 23.
Sleepy Hollow had already proven itself a formidable playoff contender in Class A — one that would beat Rye for the first time in 23 years and rival Ossining for the first time in 29 — but in Isaiah Sanjuan and Alex Laub the Headless Horsemen suddenly had reinforcements.
“That’s like a Tuesday around here,” Sleepy Hollow coach Steve Borys said. “We kind of adapt to things as we go. You never know what the next surprise is going to be, who’s going to fall into your lap. This year has been great.”
The arrival of Sanjuan and Laub has sparked the Horsemen, who find themselves in their first Secton 1 Class A final. Weather permitting, they will meet Somers at 6 tonight for the Section 1 championship.
Laub emerged first, not just unannounced but unheralded. He was a soccer goalie who opted to skip this season, leaving him time to toss a football around one September day after school. The junior began to kick accurately and from distance when basketball teammate Dionel Infante walked onto the field for football practice.
“He was booming kicks,” Infante said. “It was 40-yarders, 30-yarders, like it was no problem for him. He had shoes on — no cleats — but it was easy.”
Infante brought Laub to practice the next day, greeting Borys with this: “Coach, this is Alex Laub. He can be our kicker.”
“They did a really good job making me feel like part of the team as quickly as possible,” Laub said. “That first day they handed me a weight and said, ‘Here you go.’ ”
Two weeks later, Laub dressed for his first-ever football game against Hen Hud. He drilled five extra points and a field goal — a first, Borys joked, in his 10 years.
Last week, Laub attempted a 25-yard kick in a game that was anything but a blowout. He split the uprights to give the Horsemen a 10-6 lead over Brewster in the third quarter of the Class A semifinals. They proved to be decisive points in a wild 24-21 win.
“That’s the first time in my career in a meaningful spot that we called for a field goal,” Borys said.
Laub’s kick could’ve gone for naught without Sanjuan, who scooped a fumble and returned it 59 yards for a score with 1:36 to play and caught an acrobatic 49-yard touchdown just 68 seconds later to stun unbeaten Brewster.
“I can’t explain how crazy it was,” he said. “I’m just so thankful to be on this team.”
Like Laub, Sanjuan joined at midseason, but he had played youth and modified football in Tarrytown. He transferred back home from Stepinac five days before homecoming against Hen Hud, looking to give football — and Sleepy Hollow — one more chance after losing his passion for the game.
With the help of Stepinac, athletic director Chuck Scarpulla rushed to clear Sanjuan’s transfer with Section 1, knowing he’d need three games in uniform to be eligible for the playoffs. Sanjuan has since served as a backup tailback for hobbled starter Dominic Onwe and will start against Somers at outside linebacker.
“In the beginning, I didn’t think it was the right decision,” Sanjuan said. “Stepinac’s a great school, but I just want to have fun. That’s all I care about right now.”
That hasn’t been hard for Sleepy Hollow, not with Sanjuan and Laub in uniform.