After the final whistle blew in Marlboro’s instant classic 27-25 win over New Paltz on Friday night in the Section 9, Class B championship game, the joy was instantaneous and palpable, as the Dukes created a circle in the center of Middletown’s Faller Field and leapt onto each other in an impromptu dogpile to celebrate the fact that the Class B trophy was coming home after a year in the Huguenots’ clutches.
In what has been a storybook season for Marlboro (9-0), it seemed destined that it had to culminate in a rematch of 2016’s title game, which saw New Paltz defeat Marlboro 33-17 last November in Kingston to break the Dukes’ run of five consecutive division titles. This time the Dukes turned the tables on their rivals.
It’s time to start a new streak,” said Marlboro head coach Rich Ward. “My hat’s off to New Paltz and their program and coach (Tom) Tegeler. We have the utmost respect for them. Our mentality is that we believe that this trophy belongs to us. That’s going to be our mentality next year as well. We’re going to keep fighting for it and keep working for it. It feels good. Anytime you can beat a quality team like New Paltz, your kids are doing pretty darn good.”
This Dukes squad waited 12 months to exact the ultimate revenge on their rival in a game that reasserted their dominance in Class B. “It feels amazing,” senior quarterback Phil DeSantis said of the win. “We had this title for five years as everyone knows, and losing last year hurt us. That made us hungry. We lost the eye of the tiger last year and we came back with it. That’s why we won this year, that’s why we did it. We had the hunger and the passion this year.”
Marlboro was powered throughout the title game by junior quarterback Sam Mongelli, who accounted for all four touchdowns the Dukes scored, two with his arm and another pair with his legs. In last year’s title game, the precocious playcaller struggled at times, but with another year of seasoning and experience under his belt, Mongelli controlled the game against New Paltz (8-2) and outdueled Huguenots senior quarterback Jimmy Verney to lead his team to victory. “Last year as a sophomore I was a little inexperienced,” Mongelli said. “Even towards the end of the season I’d say I was a little immature. I didn’t hold onto the ball well last year. I learned that. It was ball security for us, especially for me because I fumbled twice last year and I didn’t want that to happen again, because I cost my team. But this was a great game and it feels good.”
The championship win came three weeks after Marlboro notched a big 21-7 road win at New Paltz on Oct. 13 to clinch the top playoff seed, but the victory over the weekend was the one that the Dukes had been waiting all year to secure. “This was the main goal,” Mongelli said of beating the defending champs. “We wanted to play them and I’m sure they wanted to play us. I think it’s a great rivalry on both sides, and it just feels great knowing that we can beat one of the best teams around.”
Marlboro will now play Section 1 champion Pleasantville in a Class B regional championship game this Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Mahopac, as the Dukes look to emerge victorious in a state quarterfinal contest. “We stay confident every week, and we’re going to look at next week like we’re 0-0 and we’re just going to work hard this week,” DeSantis said.
New Paltz struck early in the Nov. 3 tilt, as junior running back Mike Pisciotta burst through the line and sprinted into the end zone for 46-yard touchdown run to give the Huguenots a 7-0 advantage at the 7:17 mark of the first. On the ensuing possession, Mongelli (6-7, 75 yards passing, 2 TDs) quickly leveled the score when he found junior wide receiver Muhammed Banks for a 21-yard TD reception, as the wideout hauled the ball in amidst traffic and cruised in for the score to make it 7-7 with 3:36 left in the first quarter. “I saw Muhammed come open and I had a little slot, and I just tried to put it there and he had a great catch reaching back for it,” Mongelli said. “He can make a play when he catches the ball and that’s exactly what he did.”
The junior quarterback continued to put on a show in the second quarter, as he scrambled and then threw a laser to junior wide receiver Zachary Bayon for a 22-yard score to put the Dukes up 14-7 with 9:17 remaining in the first half. “It’s a big difference between being a sophomore and a junior, and he’s going to grow from a junior to a senior,” Ward said of Mongelli’s evolution. “I had a good feeling about him in warmups. I saw him throwing the ball and he was focused and his balls were on the money. I’m proud of him and all of the kids. Sammy’s an important part of our program, every kid is, and Sammy had a unique game tonight.”
Although they would never regain the lead, New Paltz continued to fight throughout, and a pair of Daniel Drewnowski field goals, including a 20-yard boot as time expired in the second, cut the Marlboro lead to 14-13 heading into the break.
The Dukes wasted no time seizing control in the third quarter, as DeSantis (2-2, 84 yards passing) stepped back for his first pass attempt of the day and delivered a game-changing 54-yard bomb downfield to Mongelli to give the Dukes a first-and-goal on the Huguenots’ 9-yard line less than a minute into the half. “The pocket started to collapse a little bit, so I moved up and Sammy beat his man, so I tried to put it out there for him,” DeSantis said.
On the next play, Mongelli turned the corner and dashed into the end zone for a 9-yard score to make it 20-13 Marlboro with 10:32 to go in the third. “We just wanted it coming out in the second half,” Mongelli said. “The first half was a little sloppy, but the second half was just all heart.”
With their season quickly slipping away, Verney exploded down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown run as time expired in the third quarter to cut it to 20-19, but Drewnowski subsequently missed a crucial extra point wide left when the Dukes’ defense pressured the kick, and that play would come back to haunt New Paltz later on.
Determined to get some breathing room, the Dukes marched the ball down the field and Mongelli (97 yards rushing on 21 carries) scored on a 3-yard quarterback keeper, as he slammed into the end zone to give Marlboro a 27-19 lead with 8:29 left in the game. “I saw my linebacker and just put my head down and stuck the ball out and hoped for the best,” Mongelli said. “The line made holes all day and that’s the most I could ask for.”
When Verney sprinted in for a 2-yard TD score to cut the Marlboro lead to 27-25 with 4:06 remaining in the title contest, New Paltz lined up for the biggest play of the game – a two-point conversion attempt that could have knotted the score. But instead of turning to Pisciotta, who racked up 186 yards rushing on 21 carries for the evening, the Huguenots opted for a pass play, and the Dukes exerted enough pressure on a scrambling Verney (5-11, 59 yards passing) that his attempted pass to junior receiver Axel Rodriguez flew out of the right corner of the end zone, preserving Marlboro’s slim lead. “We thought they would run the ball, so we were a little run heavy,” Ward said. “But we kept our contain and we kept our width before we got depth. We kept Jimmy working laterally so he couldn’t turn the corner. I thought we had decent coverage and we found a way to win.”
It was the biggest play of the season for Marlboro’s defense, and they held tough when it mattered most. “We put pressure on them and we just forced a mistake,” Mongelli said. “That’s not a usual mistake for Verney, but it just sailed on him a little bit. It happens to me all the time. They just got a little unlucky and we got very lucky.”
With a lead in hand, the Dukes had no intention of giving New Paltz another possession, and Mongelli and senior wide receiver John Perugino (28 yards rushing on 5 carries) ate up the clock by keeping the ball on the ground and securing three first downs to clinch the win. Perugino, who was suspended for the Class B semifinal against Liberty last week after receiving two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties during the regular-season finale against New Paltz, was back in the lineup for the Dukes on Friday night, and on a third-and-one play from the Dukes’ 41-yard line with 41 seconds left, the senior rushed for seven yards to earn the first down that would seal the Huguenots’ fate and restore Marlboro to the top of Class B. “They’re a great team, but we won this due to hard work and dedication,” DeSantis said. “That’s really it. We’ve been working hard since January, and no one’s taking that from us.”
It’s always difficult to defeat a rival twice in one season, so the fact that Marlboro downed New Paltz twice in the span of three weeks is a major accomplishment. “It’s a huge feat,” Ward said. “Anytime you beat New Paltz once it’s a big feat. Our kids kept fighting and fighting, and I’m proud of not only our team but the Marlboro community. I appreciate them coming out and supporting us.”
In Pleasantville, the Dukes will be facing off with the class of Westchester County in a win-or-go-home matchup, but the team will head to Mahopac on Friday with the wind at its back after an exhilarating win over New Paltz that was a year in the making. “Every game is going to get faster, more physical, more furious,” Ward said of the road ahead. “I haven’t even thought about Section 1 yet, but we will tomorrow morning and go from there.”
By Ted Remsnyder