If offensive plays had been the gauge out at Pancake Hollow in Saturday’s home-opener between home-standing Highland and visiting Rondout, then the Ganders should have put away the Huskies by some three touchdowns. But if potential big plays were to be the standard for the game, then the combination of missed chances by the Highland offense and a brilliant big-play defense should have seen the Huskies win by the same margin. As it was, with both teams trying to work out the first-game jitters and kinks, it was left to the leg of the Gander’s Seth Deruggiero and his 28-yard field goal with just 7:45 left in the game to provide the game’s only points.
Using halfback Johnny Sells almost exclusively, Rondout had a 14-play 59-yard drive at the end of the first quarter that stalled out at the Highland 21 as a Rob Steers pass to Sells on a fourth-and-nine was stopped by Highland safety Charlie Merget just a foot short of a first down. Sells had 54 yards rushing on seven carries in the drive. But the big play in the drive actually came from Highland, as defensive end MJ Barrington stopped halfback Jordan Quinn for a loss on a third-and-eight at the Huskies’ 20-yard line, setting up Steers’ pass attempt. It was a drive-killer…and Highland had them all night long.
Offensively the Huskies just couldn’t get anything going, especially on the ground, as Steve Rosado, Brandon Bissaccia, Anthony Pavese, Matt Quinn and first-year quarterback Chris Ranalli could only muster 49 yards total (unofficial) on 23 carries. “Not to make excuses but a couple of our running backs missed the game because of not enough practices and Pavese was hurt early in the second quarter and didn’t return until the fourth,” said long-time coach Carl Relyea. The lack of a running game put a lot of pressure on the inexperienced Ranalli, but the junior QB did show off a great arm and some poise in evading a sometimes severe Rondout pass-rush. “I thought he did well, considering it was his first varsity game and we didn’t have a running game for him to go to. He made some good decisions out there and missed Merget by inches on a couple pass plays that could have broken it our way.”
In Merget, Highland may have found something special. The senior wideout/safety is playing his first year of football, and showed some speed and agility in getting behind Sells (at defensive back) two or three times, and was wide open, but Ranalli’s 40-yard bombs were just a bit overthrown. Both came in the second quarter, when the Huskies played their best ball of the night. The first pass came on a second-and-one (after a nine-yard scamper by Pavese) from the Highland 22 — it was just over Merget’s outstretched hands; the second a few minutes later after Bissaccia recovered a Rondout fumble on the Huskies’ 23 and Ranalli was long again from the Highland 18 as Merget beat Sells to the outside some 40 yards downfield. It was close…but still nothing to show for the effort.
With Sal Mazzella, Lucas Canino, Kevin Rivera and Barrington again making big stops on the defensive end, Highland hung tough through three quarters, even though Rondout was churning out the rushing yardage. And then came the scoring drive, as the Ganders ended the third quarter at their own 48-yard line, going from their 13 in six plays. Three straight runs of 12, 15 and 24 yards by Jordan Quinn opened the fourth quarter and brought the ball to the one-yard line, where once again the Highland defense came up big. After a five-yard motion penalty sent the ball back to the six-yard line, Sells was stopped for a one-yard gain on first-and-goal. On second-and-goal Mazzella and Canino caught Steers in a pincher move for a five-yard loss. On third-and-goal from the 10-yard line Rosado stopped Sells cold at the line of scrimmage. That brought in Deruggiero for the field goal attempt, and he nailed it, straight through the crossbar from 27 yards out, with plenty to spare.
Highland had one more big defensive play to make, as Quinn broke through the Highland defense with just over 3:00 left in the game, breaking it from his own 39 and into the clear. But Pavese — back in the game — saved a clinching touchdown by running him down at the Highland 20-yard line. The Ganders couldn’t move it from there as Highland’s defense stiffened once more and a Rivera sack of Steers gave Rondout a fourth-and-25 at the Highland 35. But here the football gods turned their backs on the Huskies, as Deruggiero’s bouncing punt rolled dead on the Highland one-yard line. There was just 1:30 left in the game.
There wasn’t much Highland could do, as Rosado got a couple yards on a sweep and Ranalli hit Merget for 13 yards over the middle. Ranalli got four yards on a thwarted pass-play, then threw three successive incompletes toward Pavese, Cory Nekotopolous and Merget. It was game over.
Quinn led Rondout with 128 yards rushing in 12 carries, with Sells carrying for 52 in 15 carries. Rosado led Highland with 29 yards in six carries. Ranalli was just two-for-11 passing for 37 yards; Steers one-of-four for that eight-and-three-quarters yard gain to open the second quarter.
Highland is 0-1 (overall and Class B) and hosts Red Hook this coming Friday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. Rondout, 1-0 (overall and Class B), hosts New Paltz (0-0) this coming Saturday, Sept. 10 at 1:30 p.m. ++