Here’s my second of two previews tonight, a look at the Class A championship.
The game pits two programs hoping to end long (for them) title droughts. Yorktown won four Section 1 titles in the first six years of the state playoffs, including state championships in 1993 and 1994. But the Huskers have not won again since 1998. This year, they are the only unbeaten team remaining in the section at 9-0.
Rye’s drought is modest by comparison, but that has not made the program any less hungry. The Garnets have yet to win a title since entering Class A in 2009 — their first following a run of Class B titles from 2003-08 highlighted by three state championships. Last year’s unbeaten season ended in a championship game loss to Somers.
Rye’s return was the focus of my Friday feature from today. It centers on the team’s pursuit of better health, as well as a topic that sparked some passions a couple weeks ago when the coaching staff — with Dino Garr away in Bali — pulled the starters for the second half. Scarsdale rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit to hand Rye its only loss, 38-36 in OT.
Garr joked that the only decision he wasn’t sure about was allowing the starters back in at all.
“Before I left, I told the guys to go after it and see as much as you can in the first half,” said Garr, who wanted the starters pulled at halftime. “The coaches did everything absolutely correct. As the head coach, they did everything I asked them to do.”
Garr discussed the unique situation (a season-ending non-league game that had no bearing on the playoffs), which was reminiscent of last year’s regular-season finale at Harrison. Of course, Rye had no choice then, playing its stars from start to finish against his team’s biggest rival. It was a hard-fought 8-2 victory, but the Garnets lost two-way star Conor Murphy for the season and saw another two-way standout, Chris Santangelo, suffer an injury from which he never recovered.
Garr has been determined to not let that happen again. He didn’t play his senior captains on defense all season, and only recently has begun to sprinkle them in. The result was perhaps Rye’s best defensive performance of the season in last week’s 21-19 defeat of Somers, the two-time defending champ.
The strategy has paid off. The Garnets are almost completely healthy entering Saturday’s Class A final, a trade off the head coach didn’t mind.
“Would we have liked to have won that (Scarsdale) game? Absolutely,” Garr said. “Did we want to risk our season because of that game? Absolutely not.”
SCOUTING REPORT —
Class A championship
No. 1A Yorktown (9-0) vs. No. 1B Rye (8-1)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Mahopac High School
Key players: Yorktown — Nick Santavicca (5-7, 165), Jr., RB/DB; Ryan Baker (5-8, 155), Sr., QB; Ryan Brandt (5-11, 205), Sr., FB/LB. Rye — Andrew Livingston (6-2, 190), Sr., QB; Tim DeGraw (5-10, 150), Sr., WR/DB; Chase Pratt (6-0, 200), Jr., TE/FB/LB.
Outlook: Don’t blink. These are two of Section 1’s highest-powered offenses, led by record-setting players. Santavicca shattered Yorktown’s single-season rushing record last week (previously held by Pete Cariello with 1,396 yards) and now has 1,506 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is the focal point of a high-tempo, athletic offense led by Baker, a dual threat at quarterback. Brandt anchors a defense highlighted by strong play at linebacker. The Huskers will be tasked with stopping Livingston’s pursuit of Section 1’s all-time passing record. With 5,308 yards, the senior needs just 162 yards to both surpass Briarcliff’s Rob Higle for the record (5,469), but to also become the first passer in Section 1 history with two 2,000-yard seasons. For all the production from Livingston and his top target, DeGraw, Rye’s defense played perhaps its strongest game of the season in last week’s win over defending champ Somers. The unit will be integral as the Garnets play for their first Section 1 title since 2008 and first since moving to Class A in 2009. The title drought has been longer for Yorktown, which won the section in four of the first six years of the state playoffs (including two state titles), but hasn’t advanced to states since 1998.
Up next: The winner will play the Section 9 Class A champ on at noon on Sat., Nov. 15 at Mahopac High School in the regional final. Cornwall and Port Jervis meet for the Section 9 title tonight.
COACH SPEAK —
Yorktown coach Mike Rescigno: “I think we’re pretty close to full strength. We have a couple of guys we were nursing it a little bit. But, compared to where we were a couple weeks ago, we’re in a lot better shape.”
On if his linebackers are healthy: “(Mike) Dedvukaj and (Ryan) Brandt are healthy. I think our vital players are ready to roll. Certainly, the linebackers are a critical part of our defense, but if you lose anybody (to injury) when you’re playing well it’s a serious concern. You never want to have one of those pieces go away. The second half of the Nyack game, some backups came in and those kids played huge. We have a different level of confidence with those youngesr kids.”
On what to expect from Rye’s defense: “I’m not sure. I think right now i’m planning that they’re going to certainly trying to take away Nicky (Santavicca). There’s no doubt about it. Every team has. I think teams have to be careful about trying to take away one person. Ryan Baker can hurt you, Del Bene and Fennessy can hurt you, too.”
On the teams both wanting to play uptempo: “I’m not in their game-planning room, but our style has always been to produce offensively. I think the more critical component in this game is going to be defense. I credit their defense. I think it plays a really smashmouth brand of defense. I think management of the ball is important. Take care of the ball and manage the time of possession, for sure. I don’t think they want the ball in our hands and we don’t want the ball in their hands.”
On what he sees with Rye: “I see a well-coached team that deliberately formations you to stress out your defense. That’s what took out the most of our time. Who are you going to take away? DeGraw or Abate can both beat you. I know the deal. If we vacate the box, he’s going to run it down our throats, so I see a lot of similarities with us. But, to me, the hardest thing is they’re calculated with the formations they’re using to get one-on-one matchups for their guys. That’s what took up the most of my time, them disguising formations.”
On whether his team is determined to prevent Livingston from breaking the passing record: “I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about that. When it comes to locker room material and bulletin-board material, that’s not part of it for us. That kid’s a hell of a ballplayer. If he gets it, he deserves it. I certainly don’t hope it happens on my watch. If he doesn’t get it, that means we played well.”
On what it would mean to win a championship: “I just want it for the kids, man. Since I’ve been at the helm, I’ve had kids year in and year out who have given of themselves unconditionally. It couldn’t mean more to me. When I look at this team, I want it so badly for the kids. I’ve been hearing from alumni. My e-mail has been flooded with messages from alumni wishing us well. I’d like us to get a chip for sure.”
Rye coach Dino Garr: “I see a competitive team. They have a QB who runs a very efficient offense. They have so many different areas to go. He’s dangerous when he runs the ball and throws good, quick passes. Santavicca is a big threat and the quarterback runs the ship. You don’t know if he’s going to throw, run, run the option. He’s very efficient.”
On covering Yorktown’s big WRs: “It’s a mismatch, but we’ve had mismatches before. We have mostly young guys out there. We can’t change our basic aspect of how to cover. If they do complete a pass, we have to tackle. That’s a big thing. If a pass is completed, we have to be able to make a tackle.”
On if Rye can learn anything from how Nyack played Yorktown: “Nyack has some very good, quick linebackers, great team speed. That helped them. I don’t think we’re as fast as Nyack, but I think we play some good, sound defense. We have to if we want to win this game. It’s very similar to Somers. You can’t focus on one guy with Somers.”