MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Momentum was on Mahopac’s side and the Indians were set up to engineer a game-winning drive against arch-rival Carmel on Sept. 16.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the Rams held on for a 15-14 win to improve to 3-0 and hand the Indians their first loss. Carmel also defeated Mahopac for the third-straight season and kept a firm grasp on the Bryan Higgins Memorial Trophy.
The game was preceded by a patriotic duo parachuting onto the field with American flags along with a fireworks show. Then the fireworks on the field began in front of the standing-room only crowd.
They sure didn’t stop until the final whistle.
On the Indians’ last drive with just three minutes to spare, Mahopac quarterback Ryan Dugan aired out a second-down pass down the sideline, but it was dropped. On the next play, Dugan hit another receiver on the sideline at midfield, but he was ruled out of bounds.
“Based on the personnel and formations that we were in, we had the matchups we wanted,” first-year Mahopac coach Dominick DeMatteo said. “We won both times in those concepts but we didn’t execute. When you don’t execute, whether it’s the throw or the catch, the concept doesn’t matter. Those kids are still trying their butts off and we’re going to still throw to those guys. We’re going to get better.”
A fourth-down pass was awry as Carmel was able to burn out the clock and the Rams stormed the stands to celebrate with their fans.
Carmel took a 9-0 lead into halftime as the Indians got off to a slow start, in part due to poor field position.
After a scoreless first quarter, Mahopac was able to stuff a Carmel run on third down near the goal line. The Rams settled for the 23-yard field goal from Pierce Millard to go up 3-0 two minutes into the second quarter.
A 1-yard Peyton Cayea quarterback sneak increased the Rams’ advantage to 9-0. Mahopac senior John Dignam surged into the backfield to block the extra point.
“We’ve established the fact that we have very solid team character—we have great kids,” DeMatteo said. “They’re giving great effort during the practice week and then on game night, so we’re doing it on both ends. Tonight was just a tale of mistakes. We made too many mistakes in the first half. The whole rivalry game and emotional dynamic certainly played into it. I think Carmel made a bunch of mistakes in the first half and we made a bunch of mistakes.”
After a dormant 24 minutes of football where it only totaled 80 yards, Mahopac’s offense came alive in the second half.
Junior Tim Cegielski opened the quarter with a big return all the way to the Rams’ 34-yard line.
A few plays later, Dugan connected with junior Reahl Allen on an over the shoulder touchdown catch, where Allen used his 6-foot-4 frame to snag the ball over the Carmel defensive back. The touchdown cut the Rams lead to 9-7.
“We started getting better in other fazes of the game,” DeMatteo said of the second-half surge. “The kicking game was terrible in the first half. We really dominated field position the first two weeks. When you’re starting inside your 15-yard line it’s hard to get real creative and aggressive on first down. The offense was really handcuffed in the first half and that affected the play calling. Then we came out (in the second half) and got a big kick return and you can start calling everything on the menu. I think we did a better job with the other phases of the game in the second half. That just helped the offense.”
The Indians’ defense stepped up on the Rams’ ensuing possession. Nick Hayes recorded a tackle for a big loss on second down. Carmel recovered a fumble on third down and then Mark Carey and Dignam broke up a pass in the end zone to give Mahopac the ball back.
With Carmel clinging to a 9-7 lead after three quarters, Cegielski charged straight up the middle for a 30-yard touchdown. Dignam’s extra point sailed through the uprights to give Mahopac its first lead at 14-9.
Carmel didn’t take long to respond as it marched down the field behind halfback Nick Heis (112 yards, 21 carries). The Rams capped off the drive on another 1-yard Cayea keeper to regain the lead at 15-14. Dignam was at it again, breaking up the two-point conversion pass.
It was DeMatteo’s first time being involved in the Mahopac-Carmel rivalry as a coach.
“It was exciting. I’ve been in big games before in my career so I kind of know how to handle them,” DeMatteo said. “You really have to try to remove yourself from the emotion but it was wonderful to be a part of, especially the whole week (leading up to the game). The energy in the building with the faculty and the staff and whole student population. I knew we’d get a great crowd here. Once you get on the field you have to be dialed in. I think it was a bit more challenging than I anticipated in terms of where the kids’ heads were at during the practice week. At the end of the day I thought they handled it pretty well. We certainly could have handled it better. We just have to make less mistakes and I think we’ll be fine.”
The veteran coach knows that Putnam County was a winner overall after a big rivalry contest with two 2-0 teams entering the game.
“It seems like we had an unbelievable turnout with the crowd,” DeMatteo said. “The game was fairly clean and the officiating crew did a great job. Right now if I were a family that lived in either Carmel or Mahopac, I’d feel very good about my son playing in either of these two programs. I wouldn’t be looking anywhere else. These two programs are the place to be in Putnam County.”
Mahopac (2-1) looks to rebound when it travels to Dutchess County to face off with League AA-North opponent John Jay-East Fishkill at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22.
“At the end of the day, [Carmel] made less mistakes, so they walked away the win,” DeMatteo said. “We have to learn from this and I think we will. I think we’ll get better and I’m very optimistic about our direction moving forward. We just have to stay together as a team and get better.”