Go big or go home: Hoosick Falls squares off with Rye Neck with a trip to the Dome on the line
HOOSICK, N.Y. -- The further a team gets in a postseason, the easier it becomes to second-guess things.
Does this play work? Do we have an advantage here? Where are our weaknesses?
But as the Hoosick Falls Central School football team heads into the Class C football semifinal head coach Ron Jones knows that, and he is determined to keep things simple ahead of Saturday's clash with Section I foe Rye Neck.
"Football isn't that hard, there are a few things you have to do, but you have to be good at them," Jones said. "We have to execute our fundamentals very well. It doesn't get any different than that."
And for the Panthers, one of those things they have done well is play defense.
Hoosick Falls is one of the stingiest defenses in the state, giving up just over a field goal a game en route to their 11-0 season.
"I think as every game has been this year, it will come down to our defense and how well we can stop them," senior cornerback Levi Brewster said. "Offense is great, but I think the defense is our driving force."
This week's matchup will test just how stout the Hoosick Falls defense is. Rye Neck, which shares the Panther nickname, comes into the game averaging a shade under 300 yards a game on the ground while scoring 40 points a contest. The team features a stable of backs that work out of the Wing T formation, something that Jones said can be dangerous to face.
"They have six or seven kids that run well. They are very athletic, skilled, and can catch and run. Their line is pretty beefy, they have some big guys," Jones said. "We are smaller than other teams a lot. We have to hustle great, our pursuit to the ball carrier has to be great, and we have to gang tackle."
The four main carriers for Rye Neck have split their yardage evenly. Dom Brescia leads the team with 719 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns, but Pedro Cueto has 12 touchdowns on 671 yards, Ryan Morningstar has scored 10 touchdowns on 563 yards, and Jakob Calvini has scored eight times on 482 yards rushing.
Hoosick Falls senior linebacker Brandon Hodges said the key to containing the run will be the linebackers' abilities to read the runs.
"We have to plug the holes they want to run in and hopefully eliminate the run game and force them to do something else," Hodges said.
The something else would be forcing Rye Neck quarterback Tom Pipolo to throw the ball. While Rye Neck has rarely relied on the pass this season, averaging just 80 yards a game, Pipolo has been efficient, going 33-for-62 during the season for 805 yards, 11 touchdowns and just one interception. His main targets are Morningstar (12 receptions, 269 yards), Calvini (10 receptions, 266 yards), and Matt Garcia (7 receptions, 210 yards).
While many of Pipolo's passes come on playaction during the flow of the game, the senior quarterback has put his team on his shoulders before this season.
During its closest regular season game, Pipolo went 6-for-10 for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 41-40 overtime win.
"Just like we have done all year, we have to try and get the quarterback out of rhythm," Brewster said. "When he is on a pass play, we have to try and hit him down and get in his face all game."
Offensively, Brewster is hoping that his quarterback, junior Garrett Wright, will be able to have enough time to find Brewster and the rest of the receivers.
While Hoosick Falls has a reliable backfield duo in Hodges (134 carries, 1,009 yards, 17 TDs) and senior Mike Matatt (114 carries, 557 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Wright (57 carries, 317 yards, 10 touchdowns) can carry the ball himself, Jones said that he doesn't expect big chunk plays against Rye Neck.
"Defensively, [Rye Neck] doesn't try to trick you," Jones said. "They are conservative with their coverage. They want to make you really work to score. I don't see a ton of big plays coming out of this. We are going to have to be precise, and we will have to put drives together to score."
Calvini anchors Rye Neck defensively, registering second in the tackle totals (73) and leading the team in sacks (6).
Through the 10 contested games Hoosick Falls has played the team has scored 403 points, just one less than Rye Neck, but Jones admits that "it will be OK to punt this week."
"We will take what they give us. If we have to throw every play we will. We will keep with [the running game] and keep trying it. But we've had games, when we get to the higher levels, that if we have to throw 30 times, I'll do it."
And Jones has faith in his quarterback. While many of his teammates played in last year's final four, this is Wright's first shot under center in this situation. But Jones knows that Wright has put in the work to get this opportunity.
"It started with a lot of hard work in the offseason," Jones said. "He and Levi threw just about every day together. They have developed that kind of chemistry, it is a real thing."
Under center, Wright is 84-for-161 this season for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns with one interception. Brewster has been his main target (31 receptions, 4 touchdowns), but five other receivers are over 100 yards receiving this season (Hodges, Thomas Peabody, Austin Pitt, Connor McCart, Dave Hardesty), and Wright has found 8 different players for touchdowns.
"Garrett has good accuracy, and he throws the ball away from the defender and trusts our receivers to make a play on the ball," Jones said.
As for Wright's key to the game? It is again keeping it simple, and doing what the offense has done all year.
"The key for us is outpacing them," Wright said. "Just keep on the no-huddle offense and keep wearing them down."
Saturday's contest will be played at Dietz Stadium in Kingston, with kickoff set for 11 a.m.
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