MAHOPAC, N.Y.— The second after his Indians fell to visiting North Rockland in the Class AA qualifying round two weeks ago, first-year Mahopac coach Dominick DeMatteo couldn’t stop stressing the importance of finishing the year the way they started it: with a bang.
“It’s always a challenge when you’re facing week eight and nine while not in the playoffs anymore,” DeMatteo said. “But we really preached to the kids the importance of redefining goals and preparing to achieve them. That’s very reflective of life.”
Mahopac (6-3) answered the bell with a convincing 36-18 victory the following week over Fox Lane and pulled off a miraculous 22-19 win against Port Chester on Friday night, Oct. 27.
Greatness ensued when the Indians faced a 19-9 deficit with only 5:55 left in their season.
“I just looked at the kids and said, ‘This is it,’” DeMatteo said. “The one unit that has struggled this year is our kick return unit, and we’ve been working hard on the technique while making some changes. I said that it’s our time to shine.”
Junior Tim Cegielski gave them results, returning the kickoff to Mahopac’s 40-yard line to start.
The Indians struggled to move the ball from there, finding themselves dealing with fourth-and-10 at midfield.
With hope of victory dimming, senior quarterback Ryan Dugan lofted an 18-yard completion on a fade route to junior wide receiver Reahl Allen.
Looking at fourth-and-7, Dugan came through in the clutch again and connected with senior wide-out Joe Dalo for a 23-yard touchdown pass with three minutes remaining.
The missed PAT made the score 19-15 with the Rams still in front. But senior John Dignam’s monster kickoff pinned Port Chester on its own 12-yard line.
From there the Indian defense took control, causing a three-and-out and allowing the offense to begin at Port Chester’s 42-yard line.
But time was ticking under a minute when Mahopac was drawing up its magical play on third-and-10 from the Rams’ 15-yard line.
Flushed out of the pocket, Dugan abruptly scrambled and found Dalo in the back of the end zone for the pivotal score with only 22 seconds to spare.
Now leading 22-19, Dignam squibbed a kick as the Indians stopped Port Chester near midfield.
The Rams managed to inch toward Mahopac’s 40-yard line before a Hail Mary attempt with five seconds left. Of course, it was the hero Dalo who bustled out of the end zone for the interception.
Just like that, the Indians took care of business and ended their year not only with a win, but quite the thrilling one over the Central League AA Champions.
“Competing at our level (of schedule) week in and week out, you get used to big moments,” DeMatteo said. “Our kids didn’t even come close to feeling the pressure of melting.”
The two similar teams traded possessions and played a scoreless first quarter. Early in the second, Dugan hit Allen with a slant pass up the middle that he carried 72 yards for a touchdown after breaking a tackle inside the 5-yard line.
“He is very athletic and has very good ball skills,” DeMatteo said of Allen. “He had his coming out party when we played John Jay, and since then we’ve been able to shape the game-plan around him.”
Missing the extra point, Mahopac led 6-0 but eventually allowed the Rams to piece together a long drive that resulted in a touchdown five seconds before halftime.
Trailing 7-6 midway through the third quarter, the Indians plugged downfield and notched three points off a 26-yard field goal by Dignam to go ahead 9-7.
But matters turned difficult afterward, since Port Chester rushed for a on the ensuing drive and were stopped on a two-point conversion attempt late in the third.
The Rams took a while to let up, delivering another touchdown blow and missing the two-point conversion once again. They still chewed half of the fourth quarter’s time up and led 19-9 before the Indians realized this was it.
“The kids brought tremendous resiliency to the table,” DeMatteo said. “Especially the senior class after everything they’ve been through.”
Dugan completed 11 of 20 passes for a whopping 251 yards and three touchdowns. Allen accounted for two of those touchdowns and torched the Rams for 145 yards on just five receptions.
“Ryan has had a sensational senior year,” DeMatteo said. “He is as intelligent as any quarterback I have ever coached in my career.”
Defensively, senior linebacker Nick Hayes picked a pass off when Port Chester faced fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line during the second quarter.
On the season, Dugan completed 62 percent of his throws for 1,164 yards, 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Cegielski piled up 605 yards and seven touchdowns on 117 carries, while Allen caught 23 balls for 460 yards and eight touchdowns.
The future looks bright for a team that did not have a coach until June and was not expected to notch six wins while facing a formidable schedule.
“I love teaching and coaching here at Mahopac,” DeMatteo said. “We took a very big and legitimate first step with our entire program this year. We have very quickly unified our youth program with MSA football and the high school program, doing countless events together. Football is alive and well in Mahopac.”