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SportsDukes top New Paltz in battle of unbeaten teams, earns first-round playoff bye

Dukes top New Paltz in battle of unbeaten teams, earns first-round playoff bye

The Marlboro football team had to wait 11 months for its chance at retribution against the team that unseated them as Section 9, Class B champs last fall and the Dukes unleashed all of that pent up emotion on Friday night in a commanding 21-7 win at New Paltz. With the victory, Marlboro (7-0) captured the regular-season division crown, the top seed in the Class B playoffs and also earned a first-round postseason bye.

Heading into the playoffs with an undefeated record would be significant under any circumstances, but the fact that the regular season was capped off with a win over the Huguenots (6-1) was extra sweet for the Dukes.

“We try not to say it means a lot, but it does,” senior wide receiver John Perugino said. “It’s definitely something we looked forward to and we had it circled on our calendars. Right now it’s just about doing it again.”

Going into the game, it was projected by many to be an even battle pitting two undefeated powerhouses. But once the teams got between the lines, Marlboro took charge of the action and never let up. The atmosphere was electric during the pregame, with dueling chants in the bleachers of “Let’s go Marlboro!” and “Let’s go New Paltz” emanating from the respective fan bases. The entire Dukes squad, led by head coach Rich Ward, also rushed onto the center of the field prior to kickoff in a display of unity and a sign that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill season finale.

“I had a lot of passion and I was fired up too,” Ward said. “The one thing I like about this team during the last three weeks is that we’re playing with a lot of passion, so we’re going to have to continue getting after it even more.”

Marlboro’s Phil DeSantis takes the ball and heads straight up the middle.

After a long New Paltz possession to start the game drained most of the first quarter clock but failed to result in any points when the Huguenots turned the ball over on downs on the Marlboro 18-yard line, the Dukes took over and made an early statement. Perugino took a handoff from Marlboro junior quarterback Sam Mongelli, turned a corner, and was soon racing down the sideline in the front of an ecstatic Dukes’ bench on his way to a game-changing 60-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 with 2:49 remaining in the first. “The offensive line opened up a hole for me and I just tried to run through it,” Perugino said. “I was able to turn it up and get it into the end zone. It was a great play.”

On the next Marlboro possession, it was time for another senior to grab the spotlight, as quarterback Phil DeSantis ripped off a highlight-reel 65-yard touchdown dash that left the New Paltz defense in the dust and put Marlboro up 14-0 just 10 seconds into the second quarter.

“It was a broken play and the line just blocked it perfectly,” he said. “It was a huge hole and I don’t even think I got touched. I just saw the seam and I jetted.”

With the Dukes dominating the action, a call from the refs then went against them that could have playoff ramifications. Perugino was ejected from the contest at the 8:53 mark of the second quarter when the senior leader received his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game. Perugino was first flagged for a taunting penalty following DeSantis’ touchdown gallop, and a second penalty was assessed on the next possession when he waved his arms to indicate an incomplete pass after the Dukes’ defense forced another New Paltz turnover on downs.

Perugino was not only ejected from the New Paltz game, but if the call stands, he would also be forced to sit out Marlboro’s first playoff game as well.

“Phil DeSantis scored the touchdown and I had a few words for a New Paltz player, and that one I felt I deserved, but the second one I definitely don’t agree with,” he said of the penalties.

For his part, Ward is not conceding that Perugino will have to miss the team’s next game. “I’m going to appeal that decision,” he said. “He wasn’t making that motion to any kid, he was just making an incomplete sign. People have done it to us all year and we’ve done it. It’s a passionate game. I think the officiating crew did a great job, but I disagree with that call and we’re going to have it analyzed.”

When the Huguenots defeated Marlboro 33-17 in the Class B title game last year, then-junior quarterback Jimmy Verney put up a dazzling display for New Paltz as he led his team to victory, but on Oct. 13, the Dukes had the senior play-caller under pressure and on the run throughout most of the contest. With New Paltz threatening on the Dukes’ 30-yard line, a Verney pass was tipped and then picked off by junior linebacker Myles Barrington with 5:42 left in the second, and the Dukes carried their two-touchdown lead into intermission.

After a scoreless third quarter, New Paltz finally got on the board with 5:11 left in the game when Verney (21-37, 243 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT) connected on a 46-yard touchdown reception with Axel Rodriguez, as the junior receiver slipped two defenders and sped into the end zone to cut the lead to 14-7. “The kid’s a great player and I’m sure he’s going to have a fire in his belly now because he probably doesn’t like to lose either,” Ward said of Verney. “Maybe if we’re fortunate to win the next game we play and New Paltz is fortunate enough to win, we’ll play in the sectional final. But Class B is no joke, and we don’t look two weeks down the road. We’ll analyze during this bye week, then it’s do or die, thrive and survive.”

With their lead suddenly cut in half and the clock dwindling down, Marlboro went for the kill, with DeSantis (eight carries for 90 yards rushing) leading the charge. In a moment that exemplified the Dukes’ determination to win this game and exact vengeance on the Huguenots, DeSantis barreled up the middle of the field, dragging multiple defenders on his back for a 13-yard gain that earned Marlboro a huge first down at the New Paltz 38-yard line.

“We had a real bad taste in our mouth after the section game,” DeSantis said of the New Paltz rivalry. “So we’ve been training hard since January and it’s all paid off today.”

After a trio of Mongelli (14 carries for 62 yards) and DeSantis’ runs subsequently brought the Dukes deep into enemy territory, Marlboro ended up with a fourth-and-5 from the New Paltz 18. Facing the biggest play of its season, it seemed likely that the run-heavy Marlboro offense would attempt to gain the key first down on the ground. But instead Mongelli floated the ball up to junior wide receiver Muhammed Banks, who reeled it in on the sidelines and stepped into the end zone for the back-breaking score to put the Dukes up 21-7 with 1:24 remaining in the contest. The pass was only Mongelli’s third attempt of the game, and his first completion of the night, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. “I think I rolled out and they bit down on my run and Muhammed Banks was wide open, so I just had to dump it to him and that really sealed the game for us,” he said.

Coming into the contest, the Huguenots were averaging more than 38 points per game, as they rolled through their first six opponents, but the Marlboro defense hounded New Paltz all night and were able to hold them to just one score.

“It was just amazing,” DeSantis said of the defensive effort. “If you come out with passion and physicality, the other team can’t stop you.” A futile last-ditch drive by the Huguenots was thwarted when senior tight end Brian Kenney caught a reception from Verney and was tackled on the Dukes’ eight-yard line as the clock expired and Marlboro celebrated the signature win of its season.

The Dukes will now have a bye week to rest and prepare for a Class B playoff semifinal game against the winner of James I. O’Neill vs. Liberty on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 3 p.m. at either Dietz Stadium in Kingston or Faller Field in Middletown. After its loss on Friday night, New Paltz dropped to the third seed in the division and will now have to play a quarterfinal game this weekend against Rondout Valley, but the Dukes know they could still see the Huguenots down the road in a potential Class B title game rematch. “It’s huge for us and really satisfying right now,” Mongelli said of the victory. “Everyone wanted to win and we all had last season in the back of our minds. So just getting this win is great and we’re going to keep working right now.”

No matter who Marlboro faces in the postseason, the undefeated team is confident they can take on all comers as they attempt to regain their Class B crown.

“We’re feeling really confident and strong,” Mongelli said. “We’re all healthy, so that’s good. Someone’s going to have to fill in for Perugino, but we’re going to be fine. We’re a strong team and when we get rolling it’s really hard to stop us.”

By Ted Remsnyder

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