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SportsDukes set for opener against O’Neill

Dukes set for opener against O’Neill

As the most dominant high school football team in the region for the past decade, the Marlboro Dukes are unaccustomed to entering a season looking for revenge against a division rival. But the 2017 campaign will be a mission to return to the pinnacle of Section 9, Class B for Marlboro after New Paltz captured the division crown last year. The Huguenots downed the Dukes 33-17 in the Class B title game last November to end Marlboro’s streak of five consecutive division titles, and this year the Dukes will return with a more experienced squad that wants to reclaim the Class B trophy. “That’s the goal for this year, to get back on top and to hopefully stay on top for years after,” senior wide receiver John Perugino said.

Phil DeSantis returns as quarterback for the Dukes in 2017.

Under head coach Rich Ward, the Dukes have usually been built around the classic football combination of an unrelenting running game and a formidable defense, and those appear to be two areas of strength for the team once again this year. “The defense looks ferocious,” Marlboro junior offensive lineman Matthew Jackson said. “They’re going to be coming after people this year. Our linebackers are flying all over the place, our defensive line is doing what they’re doing and the secondary is really improved. From personal experience, that’s what takes the longest to click, but I feel like it’s coming together pretty fast.”

Senior running back Billy Williamson also figures to be a key offensive component for the Dukes this season after an impressive junior campaign. “Billy’s a great player, and he’s definitely going to be a big part of this team on offense and defense,” Perugino said. After a couple of weeks of practice sessions (and in advance of a weekend scrimmage session with Beacon, Valley Central and Goshen) Ward said he was impressed with what he’s seen from the Dukes’ training camp. “I think we’re doing okay,” he said. “We have a lot of returning players and I like the chemistry of this group. They seem to get along, and they’re good players and good kids. That’s what makes a good combination. So I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far, but I think we’re at a point now where we need to go against someone else and see how much we improve and see what we need to work on.”

Marlboro (7-3 in 2016) will deploy a trio of quarterbacks this season, as junior Sam Mongelli, senior Phil DeSantis and sophomore Christian Diorio should all see time behind center this season. “We have three quarterbacks and we’re going to use them all,” Ward said. Perugino, who had a standout 2016 season, foresees a versatile offense for Marlboro with multiple weapons. “We have playmakers all over the field offensively,” he said. “We’re looking to have a big offensive year.”

The offensive line is one component of a football team that can go overlooked, but they’re often the heart and soul of a team, and center Jackson says this year’s rotation is looking impressive in camp. “I think the offensive line is coming together pretty good,” he said. “It’s a lot of communication, talking. Not just playing one-on-one, but playing as a whole unit. I think that’s coming together pretty nicely.” The linemen are focused on creating space for players like Williamson and DeSantis to make big plays deep in enemy territory. “We’re just trying to drive guys off the ball,” Jackson said. “The farther they can get downfield without being touched, the more successful we’re going to be in the long run.”

Ward says that if the entire squad can play with the mindset of the offensive line, Marlboro can accomplish big things this season. “I think we have a real good core,” he noted. “One of the things that we have is some athletes. We all have to share the ball, and we all have individual goals as well as team goals. So we all have to be like offensive linemen and be totally unselfish. We have to put the team first and the individual goals second. We have good character kids, and they care about each other. So far we’ve been a good group to be around, so I’m happy with where we’re at.”

The Dukes will kick off the 2017 season at home this Friday against James I. O’Neill, whom the Dukes knocked off in the Class B semifinal game in October. The non-league matchup will be the first of many tests for the Dukes this season. “There’s no easy team in Class B,” Ward said. “So every game that we play will be a tough matchup, and obviously the top dog is New Paltz. So we have them week seven.” While the tilts against O’Neill and New Paltz (Oct. 13) will be marquee games, Marlboro wants to bring a consistent effort to the field every week. “Every game is big,” Jackson said. “Obviously we’ve had some good battles with those teams in the past, but we’ve got to stay passionate and come out for every single game the same exact way.”

While it appeared early in the offseason that New Paltz could be headed back up to Class A after capturing the 2016 Class B title, the school received a generous classification when it qualified for Class B with an enrollment of 569 students. That number is the precise limit for a school to be eligible for Class B competition. “For the past two years the number came out and New Paltz was scheduled to be an A school,” Ward said. “Then the actual New York State numbers came out, and for two years in a row New Paltz’s number changed to be the top number allowed in Class B football. So that’s a huge advantage for them, so far as having more players than anyone else in Class B. If you listen to them, they think they’re the team to beat and everyone else is playing for second place. But hey, that’s why you play the games.”

Though Ward doesn’t place outsize importance on senior leadership, the program does value the experience the returning players bring to this year’s team. “We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been here before, so I rely on those guys,” Ward said. “Some of them are three years into the program, some are two. Some of them have had that taste of success, and some of them had the taste of defeat. So I think that’s what makes it balanced.” With a good mixture of veteran players and fresh new faces, the Dukes once again have high expectations heading into a season. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of moving pieces,” Perugino said. “We have a bunch of young guys who are learning, so we’re getting better every day. So I’m happy.”

By Ted Remsnyder

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