It was a close game between two hard-hitting football teams. Tied 7-7 with just 2:00 left in the first-half and Liberty, after recovering a New Paltz fumble at the Huguenots’ 30-yard line, moving the ball to the New Paltz eight-yard line and looking for all the world at that decisive momentum change that could give them not only the lead, but a path to victory in this Section 9 Class B semifinal.
New Paltz had seen these momentum shifts dissipate earlier in the game. After taking a 7-0 lead on quarterback Jimmy Verney’s 27-yard run — set up by Brian Kenney’s diving catch from Verney for a 22-yard gain to the Liberty 30 — the Huguenots got the ball back just two plays later when Devin Dixon recovered a fumble by Liberty’s Roy Penn-Cosentino at the Liberty 44. Saddled with penalties, New Paltz couldn’t get anything going offensively and punted it away. Two plays after that, another forced fumble on Penn-Cosentino was recovered by Guy Soumah, giving the Huguenots another big break, and the ball at the Liberty 15-yard line. But penalties once again undermined the New Paltz offense, pushing them back to the Liberty 31 and setting up a fourth-down-and-26 for a first down. Verney once again hit Kenney, but the 23-yard pickup was short of the first down and Liberty took over at their own eight-yard line. Liberty then marched downfield 92 yards for the tying touchdown — a two-yard run by Raliegh Ranne — at 6:37.
Not capitalizing on the two fumbles and then losing the ball on the next series, Liberty looked ready to take over the game. A score just before halftime would definitively shift the “Big Mo” to their side of the ball. But Ranne was hit by Soumah and Kenny Verney (Jimmy V’s cousin) trying to sweep around end, with Jimmy Verney — playing defensive back — coming up with the fumble recovery at the five-yard line. That set up “The Play.”
The play: a delayed quarterback draw. With a first-and-10 at their own five-yard line it looked like a pretty smart move. Pick up a few yards and try to get something going before halftime. Setting up some “mo” for the second-half. But Jimmy Verney obviously is no ordinary quarterback. The junior speedster — New Paltz’s leading rusher this season with over 850 yards — took Phil Dorman’s snap just inside the end zone, did a quick check on what his line was giving him, ran straight up the middle and past Liberty’s linemen, broke it to the outside at the 20-yard line and outraced defensive back Zach Fitzpatrick to the end zone for a 95-yard touchdown. It was the game-changer. And in essence the game-winner. A brilliant play by arguably Section 9’s best player.
There was just 1:50 left in the half when Soumah kicked off to the Liberty 25. But New Paltz wasn’t done. Liberty quarterback Jake Krebs, trying for one big quick strike to get back in the game, had wideout Bobby McLeod open behind the New Paltz defense at the 50-yard line, but D-back Kumar Singh made a leaping deflection that bounced off McLeod’s hands and kept that all decisive “momentum” in New Paltz’s corner. Liberty punted the ball away to New Paltz with 0:33 left in the half, the ball at the Huguenots’ 45. A face-mask penalty against Liberty moved the ball to the 42-yard line, setting up the second incarnation of “The Play”.
The Play’s second incarnation: a pure coaching call and a brilliant one. Verney, well-checked by the Liberty defense and with everyone rushing at him, flipped a screen pass over the hard-charging Liberty linemen to Christian Burda in the left-flat, and the junior running back did the rest, bowling over a couple of Liberty defenders at the goal-line for the score. Soumah’s extra point was blocked, but it was 20-7 as the half ended.
New Paltz added two more second-half scores: a Jimmy V five-yard TD run at 7:56 of the third quarter (the big plays — a 21-yard run by Jimmy and a 19-yard bulldozer effort by cousin Kenny); and a Burda nine-yard TD run at 10:12 of the fourth quarter (a Hunter McVea interception of Krebs at the Liberty 26 and a Jimmy V 18-yard pass to Burda the big plays); with Liberty getting back on the board on a Carter Harman nine-yard TD pass to Fitzpatrick with 6:36 left in the game. New Paltz ran out the clock and left the field with a 35-13 victory.
Jimmy Verney rushed for 186 yards on 16 carries (going over 1,000 yards for the season) and passed for 107 on six-for-nine attempts. Burda had 40 yards rushing and 59 in receiving. New Paltz, 7-1 (its only loss 14-6 was to Burke), will face 6-2 Marlboro, who defeated O’Neill 17-6 in the other Class B semifinal, for the Section 9 title this Friday, November 4 at Dietz Stadium in Kingston at 7 p.m. Marlboro is the five-time defending Class B champion, who New Paltz defeated 34-7 three weeks ago. The Huguenots last won the Class B title in 2010, defeating Marlboro in the title game.
“We are arch-rivals,” declared New Paltz coach Tom Tegeler after the game. I guess that makes it so.