Five years ago at New Rochelle High School, an inexperienced team out to defend its Section 1 title lost its season opener to Carmel, 34-28, in triple-OT. Forget the school, the formula this time was similar: Experienced quarterback and experienced team with a dangerous and diverse offense.
I covered the game, and watched Carmel’s Ryan Shilling slice up New Rochelle. The Rams actually committed several unforced mistakes or they could’ve won earlier and more easily. Three months later, Shilling met a very different team at Mahopac in the Class AA final. The Huguenots were vastly improved and proved it, winning 34-0 just a few miles from Carmel’s homefield.
I mentioned that game and that season to Lou DiRienzo when I spoke to the New Rochelle coach Saturday night after his team, the defending Class AA state champs, lost its opener 22-14 to Ketcham and its star QB Kevin Duke, a four-year starter.
“My kids already know about what happened in 2008,” DiRienzo said. “I don’t know if we’re going to end up in the same place, but the bottom line is we’re going to get better.
“We’ll get this thing right.”
DiRienzo shouldered a lot of the blame himself. With 18 new starters, he thought the offensive schemes were too complex and he regretted not simplifying things with so many new faces in the huddle. Defensively, New Rochelle struggled early against Duke, who threw two TDs, and his explosive skill players, led by Aaron Morganstern.
“They’re very explosive,” DiRienzo said. “The offensive staff at Ketcham was a step ahead of us defensively. If we were trying to take away this, they went the other way and did that.”
Starting quarterback Nas Sinkfield-Shelton threw a 70-yard TD to Jonathan Forrest and rushed for another score. He helped spark an offense that played better in the second half, cutting its deficit in half after trailing 15-0 at halftime and 22-6 at one ponint in the second half.
Although the rally fell short in their own end in the final minute — and they lost a season opener for the first time since 2008 — the Huguenots took solace in the determination they showed in the second half.
“I thik New Rochelle’s going to be just fine,” DiRienzo said. “I think we have the right character kids to make this better. I have to get better, we have to get better, but I think we’re going to do it.”