KINGSTON — In a rare quiet moment one night this week, Nick Ianello’s wife, Julie, rolled over in bed with a request. Their 28th anniversary was coming Saturday, and her wish list was just one item deep.
“I want to go to Syracuse,” she said.
Ianello and his players produced the perfect gift for Julie, the athletic secretary at Rye Neck High School. They celebrated as the Panthers earned a trip to the Carrier Dome by unseating defending state champ Hoosick Falls 14-0 in the Class C state semifinals at Dietz Stadium.
“This is a great gift for my wife,” said Ianello, a Rye Neck graduate whose program will play in its first state final when it meets two-time champ Chenango Forks at noon on Sunday, Dec. 1. “It’s just unbelievable.”
The Panthers (11-0) won in typical fashion, pitching their sixth shutout of the season and 12th in the last two. They limited the uptempo Section 2 champs to 205 yards of offense and forced three turnovers by forcing them to putter downfield a chunk at a time.
“Coach said to bend, but don’t break,” said senior Matt Garcia, who was named the team’s most outstanding defensive player. “He said, ‘You can let up 5-yard runs, 5-yard passes, and eventually they’ll make a mistake and we’ll capitalize.’”
Rye Neck paid heed to that advice early on. Pedro M. Cueto lost a fumble on the second play from scrimmage, but the rugged senior atoned quickly. He punched the ball loose just four plays later and senior Jakob Calvini scooped it and ran 52 yards for a 7-0 lead.
“When I fumbled, I just felt awful,” said Cueto, who went on to gain 127 yards on 15 carries and took home most outstanding offensive player honors. “The next couple plays, I saw the opportunity to punch the ball right out.”
Said Calvini: “That was a good way to start it off.”
The Panthers kept slogging from there. Cueto and juniors Dom Brescia and Jake Sevean powered a running game that piled up 307 more yards to surpass 3,000 for the season. Sevean’s 8-yard jaunt late in the first quarter pushed the lead to 14-0, giving Rye Neck twice as many points as its opponent had allowed in the first three quarters of a game all season combined.
Brescia intercepted a pass at his team’s 3 on the final play of the first half. Hoosick Falls (11-1) then started the third quarter with another possession, but a pick by junior Chris Richart returned the ball to the Black Hats.
They remained committed to churning clock. In fact, they ran the ball 60 times and attempted just two passes a week after Thomas Pipolo threw for three scores in the state semifinals.
“I didn’t want to give them the ball back,” Ianello said. “I figure if we had the ball, they couldn’t score.”
And they didn’t. Now, Rye Neck has its trip to Syracuse against a familiar Section 1 foe.
Chenango Forks beat Cleveland Hill 22-0 in the snow on Saturday to reach its seventh state final since 2001. The Binghamton-area school beat Rye in the 2003 and 2004 Class B finals and lost to Harrison in 2002 and Rye in 2005 and 2007.
Although Rye Neck has no experience in Syracuse, the team, like it’s No. 1 fan, can’t think of a better getaway.
“This is a dream come true for this team, this program, this organization,” Calvini said. “All the coaches and players really stuck it out to the end. We never quit going through tough times. The hard work paid off.”