Below is my story on the tug-of-war coaches and teams face during Rivalry Week. They are forced to toe a strange line: Worry about the playoffs looming while respecting how important this week’s games are to the communities.
No one will be forced to toe that line like Rye’s Dino Garr. His team has had its best season since moving to Class A in 2009 and is eager to cash in after missing the playoffs last year. As you’ll read below, Garr and his staff have prepared backups this week to play more than normal in order to rest some of the team’s two-way standouts. Still, Garr said he wants to win, but the players are the team’s “No. 1 concern.”
One update to the story: Devin Lopez’s father, Anwar, said his son was cleared to play tomorrow. That could make Sleepy-Ossining a whole lot more exciting.
As Rye prepared this week for its annual football spectacle against Harrison, coach Dino Garr and his staff kept one eye peeled on the Huskies and one on the not-so-distant future.
The explosive Garnets have steamrolled through the regular season a year after missing the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. They will be a No. 1 seed in next week’s Class A quarterfinals and will enter the postseason as the consensus favorite to win it all.
While no one at Rye is about to wish away its success, it will only complicate Saturday’s game at Harrison.
Coaches and teams across the area have been left in a similar bind during a “Rivalry Week.” Games like Rye-Harrison carry great meaning to the communities but little if any in the standings.
“We’re making sure other people are ready to step in,” Garr said of his mentality. “We’re not going to sell out our season. We’re going to play this game to win it, but we were out of the playoffs last year for the first time in 18 years and we didn’t like it. Right now, that’s our No. 1 concern.”
The Garnets learned a difficult lesson in 2010. They drove in the final minute and scored to beat Harrison in one of the series’ epic finishes. The next week, Rye hobbled into the playoffs and was bounced in the first round by Somers, then watched as Harrison won the section and reached the state final.
Garr said his team will still focus on beating Harrison, but he plans to sprinkle in reserves for key two-way starters like Conor Murphy and Chris Santangelo and along Rye’s thin lines.
“This has pretty much been my policy, but that was a perfect example of expending too much energy in one game,” Garr said. “We were beat up and they were still basking in the glory of the game.”
Playoff-bound Ossining and Sleepy Hollow weren’t very coy. Star quarterback Devin Lopez, who missed last week’s game at Rye, all but confirmed he would sit out because of a left shoulder injury in an effort to return for the playoffs. Ossining coach Dan Ricci said he will rest his best lineman, senior Griffin Gallagher, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL last offseason.
Other players will sit as he sees fit in an effort to field a healthy team for the playoffs.
“It’s definitely different knowing that the week after is more important,” said Ricci, a veteran of several games between the teams as a coach and a player. “The town thinks this is more important, but I’d rather be ready for the playoffs.”
Players are torn.
“It’s special,” Sleepy Hollow senior Nick Arduino said. “You have thousands of people coming, like family that doesn’t normally come to my games. They’ve played in this rivalry. It’s personal for me.”
The passion is less personal for Class AA powers North Rockland and New Rochelle, although they are scheduled to play Saturday and expected to be matched up again the next week in the quarterfinals.
Since this first game won’t have an impact on playoff seeding, North Rockland coach Tom Lynch said his team will use it to hone weaknesses prevalent during the regular season and to rest key players. His counterpart from New Rochelle intends to take a different tact.
“I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer, but I know the way New Rochelle is going to do it,” Lou DiRienzo said. “We’re going to play it like it’s the last game we’re going to play. I guess if somebody gets hurt, I’m going to look like a goat, but we do things one way. It’s a football game and it’s on our schedule.”k