So here we are: The final post of the football season.
Of course, there will be several football posts going forward. There’s still all-section, all-state and our all-stars/all-county to determine, plus assorted other stories to cover. But this is one post that should help close the book on the 2010 season.
Oftentimes, this is an incredibly difficult task. Some teams that deserve to fall high in the rankings haven’t played for weeks. Others won state championships but will still look up at a handful of others in the area. It’s just the way it is.
As I’ve said before, there is no best way or right way. However — and this is true more with this final ranking than ever — I will try to rank the field based on who I believe would win a neutral game at this point in the season, based on what I’ve seen and, more importantly, what has happened on the field. Same goes for the class rankings, which I have expanded to a top 10 when possible. I’d like to believe I have a pretty strong grasp on things at this point. Not to brag (OK, I’m bragging), but I’ve picked 19 games the last three weeks and only picked one wrong (Croton-Schalmont). Hopefully, I know what I’m talking about by now.
I’m sure this post should generate plenty of discussion. In fact, I’d be disappointed if it didn’t. Some of you will agree with me, some won’t. My only stipulation is that you keep this civil. There’s no reason to tear down other teams to build yours up. Every team on this list had an outstanding season that 80 or 90 percent of teams in the area only wish they had.
THE TOP 10
1. STEPINAC (12-0), Preseason rank: 4th — The Crusaders accomplished what they set out to accomplish, beating everyone on their schedule for the first time in program history and winning a AA championship. Many will argue that their schedule wasn’t the toughest — and it wasn’t — but it was far more competitive than some of our Section 1 readers credit it for. Above all, Stepinac’s Week 1 victory over Iona Prep remains the best win for any local team this season. The Crusaders then backed up a season that saw them win every game by 17 points or more with a resounding four-touchdown victory over White Plains in the Turkey Bowl. Yes, White Plains didn’t win the Section 1 championship, but it lost to the Class AA champ by 11 points and to another Class AA finalist by less than that. The Tigers were very good, but they were no match for Stepinac. No one was.
Throughout the year, the Crusaders were often noted for having excellent talent at the top of the roster, and it is true. Tyrell Goodman is considered the top skill player in the area. Donnie Simmons is one of the top two recruits (along with Bronxville’s Kieran Borcich). And Austin Taps and Caleb Gilligan-Evans are juniors who produced big time in practically every game they played. But this roster is far deeper than just four players, which is why this Stepinac team has an edge over champions of the recent past. Just ask Mike O’Donnell, who believes this is the best team he has ever coached and that Goodman is the best player he’s ever coached. That is saying something.
2. NEW ROCHELLE (9-1), Preseason rank: 1st — As many of you know all too well, I wasn’t sure what conclusion to draw about the Huguenots as recently as four weeks ago. They had struggled to defeat Yorktown in the Class AA semifinals, with both turnovers and offensive inconsistency plaguing them as the ‘Huskers rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to give themselves a chance to win. But in the subsequent two games, New Rochelle performed better than it had all fall, sounding beating an undefeated Mahopac team and taking a very impressive state runner-up, Troy, to the final minute in the state semis.
I think we learned for good in that final game that the Huguenots weren’t the prettiest team but they didn’t pretend to be. They played hellacious defense, crushed ball carriers on special teams and broke big, long plays on offense. We often talk about two-way players, but to me Jordan Lucas was something different — the best three-way player in the area. He was a game-breakers on offense, defense and special teams, and didn’t play any of the three units as a token contributor. He was explosive.
New Rochelle may have more players like Lucas than any other team. Shaquille Evans, Stanley Desir, the Cargills and Anthony Caldararo were all guys who chipped in major contributions on all three units. That depth would make New Rochelle very difficult for any team in the area to beat.
3. IONA PREP (8-3), Preseason rank: 3rd — No team turned around in grander style this season than the Gaels, who lost in such disheartening fashion to Stepinac that Vic Quirolo considered the possibility of showing better when the teams met in the AA playoffs. Well, not only did Iona not fall into the bottom four of the AAA, it soared into the No. 2 spot and even led in the first half against St. Anthony’s in a game for the regular season title. Ultimately, Iona dropped a pair of games to the Friars, including the AAA final, but both the offense and defense were sharp en route to its second trip to the big game in three years.
It turned out Sidney Weston, in his first year as the main option, was the area’s most productive back. He surged as the season dragged deeper into the fall, playing his best in the playoffs. The Gaels complimented Weston with a very strong passing game, led by Tim Perley. Jack Stillwagon and co. helped account for the loss of Michael Alfano, the leading receiver who tore his ACL in August and missed the remainder of the season.
Iona’s best effort came in the semifinals against Holy Trinity, a very strong opponent but one that the Gaels dusted off easily. Of all the hypothetical matchups I’m unsure of, a New Ro-Iona game is No. 1 in uncertainty column. The teams feature very similar players but play entirely different styles. It’s a shame they no longer play every Thanksgiving. Some years the better team is obvious, like in 2003 or 2004, or in 2008, but this is not one of those years. And we all lost out.
4. MAHOPAC (8-1), Preseason rank: NR (bubble) — Certainly, I fanned on the Indians, who began the season unranked. There was little any of us could do to figure the supreme determination and resiliency of their senior class, which earned itself a place in program lore for reaching the Class AA finals and winning a number of dramatic games along the way. Many of you would argue that Mahopac couldn’t possibly repeat its high-wire act if asked to play the same schedule, but that doesn’t matter now. The Indians compiled Section 1’s top resume through eight weeks, beating every team in one of the section’s most competitive leagues and two division winners in non-league games.
Like I said above, the seniors were $$$. QB T.J. Foley produced key runs as well as key throws to Ryan Wagner, James Lenahan and Frankie Langella. And those four and Tom Viento and Dillon Addonizio were major two-way contributors. Of course, Victor DiFusco held it all together with his versatility and leadership a dozen tackles at a time.
Credit Tom Donahoe and his staff for helping turn Mahopac into what it was. Without much size in a league of great depth, their challenge was a steep one. But by adjusting the offense and defense to compliment its parts, the Indians developed into one of the area’s top teams.
5. YORKTOWN (7-2), Preseason rank: NR — Although Mahopac and Yorktown began the season unranked, Yorktown did one better. The ‘Huskers flew so far under the radar they scraped their undercarriage on the runway. But Yorktown boasted both the size and skill to compete with the top teams in the section, including defending champ New Rochelle and one of last year’s semifinalists, White Plains. The ‘Huskers beat the latter and challenged the former until the final minutes despite playing without their most dangerous skill player Alex Terry. Imagine if he had been around for the playoffs? Wow.
QB Justin Mabus and RB Brandon Trager were the big playmakers on offense after Terry went down, and Mabus showed he was one of the top QBs, a guy capable of doing it all. Skill guys like Ty Schuldt, Brian Trainor and Ty Schuldt helped produce big plays as well on a team that could reel off a number of them. Credit an offensive and defensive line anchored by 6-foot-3, 270 pound Dylan Rampa for creating opportunities for Yorktown’s athletes. It proved to be a dangerous combination.
At their best, not many teams in the area beat the ‘Huskers because of their skill/power combo. They were the defacto third-place team in AA, only it was no mirage. Based on what I watched on the field, that’s exactly where they deserve to be ranked.
6. HARRISON (10-2), Preseason rank: NR (bubble) — From what I can gather, several people around the Huskies don’t like to hear about their remarkable postseason turnaround, a six-week stretch that saw them evolve from crestfallen to the verge of championship euphoria. I don’t agree with that. I think to properly honor this Harrison team, you have to honor its remarkable emergence from the depths of a last-minute loss to Rye to the highs of a remarkable comeback win over Burnt Hills in the Class A state semis.
To me, the memory of this group will be two-fold: Not only did they overcome some late-season heartbreak, they erased memories of three substandard years to return to the Carrier Dome. I asked Duke Alvora about this at the Carrier Dome. He said it was hard to put the season into proper perspective at that moment, but the seniors felt like they restored pride to the program.
There were a number who helped. Alvora and Tanner Knox were there the longest. Brandon Bonistall and Alex Acompora overcame injuries to contribute in a big way. Steve Ricciardi, James Tirella and Mike Callari were key two-way players. And Mike Oliva and Alex Beckett were among those who emerged to fill key roles when Charlie Crenendino went down with an injury.
I haven’t been around for enough of his 25-year career to say this, but Art Troilo had to have accomplished one of the best six-week runs of his career. His team was prepared in all six games, five of which (I’m tossing out Wallkill) were wins in games it could have lost. That’s an impressive achievement alone. The Burnt Hills victory will always be among his finest.
7. HORACE GREELEY (7-2), Preseason rank: NR (bubble) — The Quakers deserve to be right behind Harrison because they were so close to winning the Class A title. They were a powerful team with one of the section’s top running games and one of its top players in Justin Ciero. We’ll never know the outcome had Ciero stayed healthy that night at Mahopac, but that’s football.
Ciero and Gus Larramendi were quite the force running behind Joe Magardino and the rest of the offensive line. Greeley also proved its defensive acumen by limiting Nyack, Somers and Harrison in the postseason. Yes, Poughkeepsie fans will argue that their team beat the Quakers, but based on how the season finished I’d favor the sectional finalist in the end.
8. WHITE PLAINS (6-3), Preseason rank: 2nd — The Tigers have dealt with some criticism in the last month because I had proclaimed them a team that could beat New Rochelle. Although that was never the case, White Plains looked pretty solid after reaching the semis last year and beating a very good Stepinac team in the Turkey Bowl. The Tigers were ultimately hurt this year by injuries to their top two backs, Terrelle Eaton and Khadrey Merot. Although Jaeshon Brooks and Darrell Everett emerged as a junior backfield to be reckoned with in the future, White Plains never quite regained the form it had before Eaton and Merot were injured.
That said, the Tigers’ failures have been overblown. They lost by a touchdown — a play that was a fortuitous bounce to say the least — to Yorktown and dropped the other two to what are considered by most to be two of the area’s three best teams. So although White Plains fell short of its expectations, the result wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. Had Section 1 rules allowed the Tigers to play Scarsdale in the DeMatteo Bowl, they could’ve had another piece of evidence that they were a solid (if not spectacular) team.
9. BRONXVILLE (12-0), Preseason rank: 10 — I know just about everyone who comments on this blog believes the Catholic schools are the most difficult to rank because they play out-of-area opponents each week. I disagree. I struggle much more with the Broncos for so many reasons. They completely dominated every game on the schedule, winning them all by two touchdowns or more. They don’t lack for obvious talent, as evident by a line that boasts three Division I-bound players: Kieran Borcich (Boston College), Elliot Bartsch (Brown) and Stephen Shoemaker (Yale). And, in my opinion, they feature skill guys who would excel at just about any program in the section, like Dillon Mitchell and the Conways.
But Bronxville didn’t beat anyone on this list, nor did it beat anyone that would be on this list. All I know is that the Broncos certainly belong in the Top 10. Based on what I have seen, I’d put the Class C state champ right here, but an historic team like this is exactly the reason why Section 1 could use an open date on its schedules. Bronxville-Harrison or Bronxville-Scarsdale would’ve been spectacular — and quite the education.
10. CLARKSTOWN NORTH (6-3), Preseason rank: NR — For the first time in over 30 years, the Rams won a league championship. They backed up that accomplishment with a playoff victory over Scarsdale and a nip-and-tuck thriller with Mahopac for a spot in the Class AA final opposite New Rochelle.
Clarkstown North wasn’t the most dynamic team, but it had a strong defense and terrific senior leadership and determination, a la Mahopac. In fact, you can define the Rams by the fact their most eye-popping numbers came from linebacker Charlie Regalbuto. Tareek Turner, Brian Rinciari, Dan Maclena and QB Luke Sullivan were among those who produced key plays when they needed to.
By the end of the season, I’d tag this team as Rockland’s best. When was the last time the Clarkstown North program could make that claim? Who knows? By that alone, there’s no doubt this was a special season for the Rams.