The touchdowns were coming hot-and-heavy in the early minutes of Friday night’s State Quarterfinal Class B football game between New Paltz and Section 1 Pleasantville. The score at the 6:00 mark was 13-7 New Paltz, with undefeated heavily-favored Pleasantville looking a bit jittery. The Panthers in compiling their 10-0 record had allowed more than one touchdown in only one game this season and here was fiesty little New Paltz — certainly no football dynasty — scoring back-to-back TD’s in the space of two minutes. Things were not looking too “pleasant” for the team from Westchester County.
Pleasantville got on the board first, taking the opening kickoff and driving 63 yards in nine plays — the big play a one-handed grab for 30 yards by Ian Esliker off a Jack Howe pass from the Panthers’ 40-yard line. The score came on a three-yard run by Ryan Drillock, with Howe hitting the point after. It was 7-0 Pleasantville at 8:14.
Then like the proverbial (and nautical) “shot across the bow”, New Paltz’s Hunter McVea took a Jimmy Verney handoff on the Huguenots’ first play from scrimmage, and behind a big block by Isaac Savelson, broke off-tackle for a 61-yard touchdown. Guy Soumah’s point-after made it a 7-7 tie at 8:02.
It was a shocker…but there was more to come. After Pleasantville went three-and-out and punted away, Joey DiMarco grabbed the punt in the middle of a host of Panthers at the New Paltz 35 and bulled his way 15 yards to the 50-yard line. Not to let that rest, DiMarco — New Paltz’s emotional leader out there — hooked up with Verney on the very next play for a 50-yard TD pass at the 6:27 mark. Soumah’s point-after was wide and New Paltz led the 55-strong Panthers (the Huguenots have only 24, which in the end was a deciding factor in the final score) 13-7.
Pleasantville went three-and-out again and punted to the New Paltz 34. And here in many ways was perhaps, with hindsight, the most important series of the game for New Paltz. With their quick strike offense and speed advantage, the Huguenots knew that eventually they would have to slog it out for at least one touchdown. Pleasantville was too good a team to be undone by easy touchdowns. So, taking over on their own 34, New Paltz moved steadily downfield— the big plays a Christian Burda 14-yard run and Jimmy V 20-yarder to the Pleasantville 23. After a five-yard penalty pushed New Paltz back to the 28, Jimmy V found Kumar Singh over the middle at the goal-line. The pass was a bit high and Singh leaped and got his hands on it, the ball tipped toward the end zone where a full-throttle Brian Kenney got his hands on it, grabbed it, and falling into the end zone the ball popping free. It was ruled an incomplete pass. So, the what if’s — if New Paltz had scored to go up by two touchdowns and showed Pleasantville that they could grind it out as well as make the big play, it might have given the Huguenots the all-powerful “mo” (momentum) to take control of the game.
But what happened was Jimmy V ran for three yards, threw to Burda for a yard and on fourth-and-12 from the 24, Jimmy V was sacked for a six-yard loss. Pleasantville then came right down and scored — 70 yards in nine plays, culminating in a Howe-to-Tim McDermott 13-yard TD pass. The point-after by Howe was good, and despite those quick strikes early on, it was Pleasantville up 14-13 at 8:25 of the second quarter.
Late in the first-half, the Panthers recovered a Burda fumble at the New Paltz 38, with Esliker returning it back to the Huguenots’ 18. From there it was five plays for the TD, with Luke McPhee running it in from the one-yard line. A Howe pass to Alex Reda for two points gave the Panthers a 22-13 lead with 0:35 left on the clock.
The next play had to be seen to be believed. Pleasantville used a short kickoff to avoid a big runback, the kick going to DiMarco at the New Paltz 35-yard line. The senior wingback/running back scooped the ball up surrounded by Pleasantville, ran it into the pack of Panthers, and miraculously reappeared out of the pack and ran untouched down the far sideline for a 65-yard kickoff return. It was the cherry on top of a perfect first-half sundae. Soumah’s point-after made it 22-20 with just a few seconds to go in the half.
And despite the emotional high for the Huguenots and the faithful who filled the stands at Dietz Stadium to watch the best New Paltz football team in six years…that was it.
The second-half was a completely different game, as Pleasantville wore down New Paltz, with a couple of big plays of their own thrown in, scoring 34 unanswered points to win 56-20 — a score very UNindicative of the game played on the field.
New Paltz’s McVea, who rushed for 98 yards on 16 carries and caught two passes for 32 yards, was named the Offensive Player-of-the-Game, with Jimmy Verney rushing 21 times for 92 yards and completing five-of-eight passes for 132 yards. The Section 9 champion Huguenots finished the season at 8-2.