The Garnet football team boarded the bus for “Redemption Tour: 2010” two weeks ago, and the results were not pretty for the two squads with the misfortune of being their first two stops. Rye’s road warriors beheaded the Horsemen 27-6 at Sleepy Hollow September 11, and then rolled to Yonkers September 18 and thrashed Saunders 30-0 in a game that was called at halftime.
The boys in Garnet and Black aren’t patting themselves on the back just yet, though. It was at this point last season – with the same 2-0 record – that things began to unravel, when Rye’s 59-game winning streak against Section I opponents and the string of 27 consecutive victories both ended in a loss at Eastchester.
“The seniors took a close look at what happened last year, and we understand that loss was what put us off the normal Rye tradition,” said senior captain Brian Pickup. “It taught us to never take any team lightly. We didn’t have a great week of practice and kind of overlooked the Eagles.”
Rye’s week three opponent this year is 2-0 Nyack, a team that just defeated Eastchester 41-27 on the road. Pickup, a tight end and defensive end, knows the Garnets can in no way afford to waltz to victory against a team led by fullback Donald Davis. Davis rushed 29 times for 173 of Nyack’s total 347 yards on the ground.
“We’re very excited for our home opener,” said Pickup. “We have a lot to prove and want to reestablish the tradition of this program. We haven’t won on our turf in a while (Rye finished 2009 with losses to Poughkeepsie and John Jay), and that alone makes us motivated to work harder and get better.”
The Garnets have relied heavily on the play of their special teams in their two victories. Senior captain Jack O’Callaghan had both an 85-yard kickoff and a 70-yard punt return touchdown at Sleepy Hollow. Against Saunders, Dylan Lynch blocked a punt in the first quarter that was recovered by Joe Simolacaj. Simolacaj, who seemed to be everywhere, later blocked a punt out the back of Saunders’ end zone for a safety. Special teams coach Dick Papalardo gets the credit for his unit’s momentum-shifting ability.
Senior fullback Kevin Turco has also had a hand in Rye’s early success. Charged with the unenviable task of replacing Cole McCormack in the backfield, Turco has filled his shoes admirably. Built like a wrecking ball, the back rushed for a touchdown against the Horsemen, and put the Garnets on the board at Saunders with a 32-yard touchdown dash down the sidelines on 3rd and 20. Jack Concavage has also picked up backfield duties, teaming with Turco to establish Rye’s running game.
Three-year starting quarterback Connor Eck, a senior captain, showed at Saunders why he’s perhaps the best QB in the state. On 2nd and two, Eck put his cannon arm to use when he connected on a beautiful 50-yard bomb with Matt DeGraw, who caught the pass in stride and took it to pay dirt.
“Connor does a great job controlling the team and we all look up to him,” said Pickup. “His ability both on and off the field makes him a true quarterback. He learned from his brother and other older kids and he is a testament to what hard work can do. He is always trying to get better. Every day he’s ready to throw the ball after school.”
Although Eck gets the headlines, the Garnet roster is loaded with hard workers whose names fans might never know. Peter Wittwer, a vital member of the offensive line, is one of them, and senior captain Matt McReddie is another. McReddie is the type of player willing to play any position asked of him. He may not be the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but his teammates say he has the most heart on the team. In a huddle at Saunders, McReddie noticed that his shoulder had popped out of its socket. He simply popped it back in right then and there and kept playing.
Kickoff for the September 24 Nyack game is set for 7 p.m. at Nugent Stadium.