“The Drive” Propels Garnets to Awe-Inspiring 21-20 Victory Over Harrison

The sun had shifted in the sky, draping an ominous shadow over half of the football field at Nugent Stadium. Rye, trailing archrival Harrison 20-13, faced a harrowing fourth-and-12 situation from its own 42-yard-line. With little over three minutes remaining in the 80th installment of “The Game”, the Rye Pep Band began playing the notes to Journey’s timeless classic, “Don’t Stop Believin’”, during the time-out.

Working hard to get my fill, everybody wants a thrill

The Garnets broke the huddle and senior quarterback Connor Eck lined up under center. Eck, one of five captains, was not even supposed to play. The three-year starter hadn’t competed in a game since the first half of October 1’s game with Spring Valley, which he left with an ankle injury. He then sliced open his right hand – his good one – the next week at home in a freak accident. The wound required 10 stitches that weren’t removed until three days before the Harrison game

Payin’ anything to roll the dice, just one more time

Eck took the snap and faked the handoff to Kevin Turco. He rolled back into the darkness, turned, looked downfield, and set his feet. Gripping the football with a bandaged hand covered only by a thin glove, the quarterback unleashed a pass that soared roughly 25 yards, crossing the threshold of the shadow into the light

Some will win, some will lose, some are born to sing the blues

On the other end of the pass, in mid-air between a Bermuda Triangle of Harrison defensive backs, was senior captain Brian Pickup. The tight end made The Catch, ripping the ball out of the shining sky a la Dwight Clark, and came down with a first down that breathed new life into an eventual 80-yard touchdown drive capped by Eck’s game-winning, pandemonium-inducing, two-point conversion run.

Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on …

When the Huskies’ desperate 50-yard field goal fell wide right and far short as time expired, the Garnets and their thousands of supporters on hand celebrated a 21-20, instant-classic victory that goes down with the best in Rye-Harrison lore.

“That was absolutely crazy, there are no words for it,” said Anthony Vitiello, a senior captain who led the team in tackles with six and recorded two sacks from defensive tackle. “We really stuck together on that drive, and Pickup made some phenomenal catches. We had to bring that win home for all the people cheering us on, and – as for those booing us – they just made us work that much harder to get the victory.”

Brian Pickup celebrates late touchdown with Jake Meyerson

“Leading up to this, all our seniors were talking about how we were considered underdogs and how they couldn’t understand it,” added Will Draper, the team’s center. “I was willing to die on the field if it meant we would win. After we scored the two-point conversion, I ran off the field and fell down. When I tried to stand up, me legs just didn’t work.”

Eck scores game-winning two-point conversion

Three plays after Pickup saved the day, his number was called once more. On fourth-and-seven from Harrison’s 34-yard-line, Eck rolled left and tossed it to Pickup on the sideline. The 6-foot, 2-inch specimen, referred to by multiple teammates as a “freak athlete”, battled for the ball with a Harrison defender before ripping it away for an 11-yard first down conversion. Pickup, clearly in the moment and feeling unstoppable, unleashed a primal scream.

Brian Pickup, with family, accepts Christopher Mello Award

“I definitely wasn’t thinking much, just playing the game and feeding off the energy of the crowd,” said Pickup. “I was so excited, so overwhelmed with emotion, that I just screamed.”

Christian Bonaventura

On first-and-10 from Harrison’s 24 with just a minute remaining, Eck handed off to Christian Bonaventura, who rushed 21 times for 68 yards. Disaster nearly struck when the ball popped out of Bonaventura’s grasp after a five-yard run, but the referees ruled the tailback down before it came loose. On the next play, Eck dropped back and then loped up the gut of Harrison’s defense for a 15-yard gain.

Eck under center

That set up one last Eck-to-Pickup connection. With 15 seconds left and the over 6,000 in attendance feeling the electricity generated by the heart-pulsing action on-field, Eck took the snap, rolled right, and threw a fade pass on first-and-goal from the three high into the right corner of the endzone. Pickup, with a man draped on him, reeled in the pass despite the defender’s interference. Touchdown. Harrison’s lead was cut to 20-19.

“That was sheer determination and pure willpower to make such a great effort with that guy on him,” said head coach Dino Garr. “He said he was going to catch it and clearly wasn’t going to be denied.”

Mere seconds later, Garr decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion.

The night before they became legends

“We knew Dino would call for two,” said Vitiello, who also plays offensive tackle. “Our teachers later said they would have bet their lives on him making that decision. Our whole line knew exactly what we had to do then, and we knew Connor was going to get it done.”

The Captains

Eck followed Turco into the endzone, untouched until he had already crossed the precipice that divided exhilarating victory from gut-wrenching defeat.

Will Draper, Matt Keough, and Peter WIttwer

“It was by far the greatest sports experience in my life, and I’m so thankful for having had the opportunity,” said Eck, who finished with 110 yards passing, 53 on the final drive. “Scoring the two-point conversion was an incredible adrenaline rush, unlike any other experience. It was the most excitement I’ve ever felt in my life, and it was amazing to share that with my best friends, the team, and all the Garnets who came back to watch.”

Waterproofing the injured hand

The win gave Rye a top seed in the Class A Section playoffs. The 5-1 Garnets host Somers October 22 at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Harrison’s loss was their first of the season, but the Huskies could very well dance with Rye again. There is a chance the two teams meet in the Section championship game at Mahopac in two week’s time.

Joe Simolacaj

Clearly, this Rye team, with its confidence now ratcheted up, would relish the opportunity.

Luke Walsh gets ready to make the plunge

“Everyone knows the stakes when you play Harrison,” said Vitiello. “Practice is insane and no one jokes around. Dino knows that team like back of hand, and we have a distinct game plan for them that we think is a winning one. We go in very confident and clearly execute better than them. If we meet again, we feel the result will be the same.”

Don’t stop believin’, hold on to that feelin’


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