By Rob Potter
MAHOPAC November 15, 2005 Seven days after winning their first Section IX football championship, the Eldred Yellowjackets saw their 2005 football season come to a disappointing end.
The Section I Champion Tuckahoe Tigers thrashed the Yellowjackets 40-7 in a state Class D regional game on Friday afternoon at Mahopac High School.
However, things began well enough for Eldred (9-2).
After a scoreless first quarter, the Yellowjackets began the second quarter with a seven-play, 93-yard touchdown drive. On fourth-and-goal just inches from the goal line, Jonathan Counts took a handoff from junior quarterback Nick McCormick and plunged through a pile of players into the end zone. Mike Prunka then kicked the ball through the uprights on the extra-point attempt to give Eldred a 7-0 lead with 9:33 left until halftime.
The key play of the drive was Counts 73-yard run down the right sideline.
The senior running back finished the game with 123 rushing yards.
But from that point on, only the Tigers added points to the scoreboard.
It took Tuckahoe (6-3) only three plays to tie the game. After Yellowjacket defensive tackle Hilton Johnson tackled a Tiger running back for a 1-yard loss and Yellowjacket linebacker J.T. Vogt sacked Tiger QB Joseph Melendez for minus 4 yards, Tuckahoe faced a third-and-16 from its own 31-yard line. After taking the snap from center, Melendez rolled left and then threw the ball to tight end Billy DiGiacomo, who then ran down the sideline for a 69-yard touchdown. Tuckahoes David Bendlin split the uprights with his PAT kick to even the score at 7-7.
Tuckahoe took a 14-7 lead with 4:49 left in the second quarter. On first-and-10 at its own 28-yard line, Tuckahoe halfback Lowell Robinson took a handoff from Melendez and ran to his left. Two Yellowjacket defenders grabbed Robinson near the 35-yard line and prepared to bring him down. But Robinson had other ideas as he broke free and sprinted down the field to complete a 72-yard TD run.
The Tigers padded their advantage by scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. After forcing the Yellowjackets to punt on their first possession of the quarter, Tuckahoe needed only two plays to score. On second-and-two from the Eldred 49-yard line, Dwayne Downes broke through the line and raced to the end zone.
Downes intercepted a McCormick pass to set up the Tigers next touchdown drive. Three plays after Downes picked off McCormick, Melendez completed a short pass to halfback Tristan Alexander, who proceeded to break a couple of tackles and run to the end zone. Bendlin pushed the extra-point kick wide left, but Tuckahoe still had a commanding 27-7 lead with 5:32 remaining in the quarter.
Melendez and Robinson connected on a 54-yard touchdown pass with just over a minute left in the stanza.
With 10:58 remaining in the fourth quarter, Melendez and Robinson hooked up again. Robinson jumped up between a pair of Yellowjacket defenders near the Eldred 5-yard line to snare a pass from Melendez. The junior halfback then ran into the end zone to complete a 16-yard TD play.
Eldred senior defensive tackle John Adams blocked Bendlins extra-point kick, which made the final score 40-7.
During the postgame awards ceremony, Robinson was presented with the Most Valuable Running Back award and Downes, who played offensive guard, fullback and defensive tackle during the contest, was awarded the Most Valuable Lineman plaque.
We played a great game, Tuckahoe Coach John DArco said.
In addition to praising the performance of Robinson, Downs, Melendez and Alexander, he also singled out senior linebacker Dave Budesa.
He did a nice job for us today, DArco said.
The Tigers leader thought that falling behind early may have actually helped his team.
I think our pride was hurt a little bit after they scored the first touchdown, DArco commented. We went right down and tied the game on our next possession.
Eldred Coach Frank Kean said that the Tigers experience helped them.
Theyve been here before and this was our first time in regionals, he explained. I think they could sense that. After we scored our touchdown, they really took it to us.
The veteran coach also felt that tackling was a key factor in the contest.
We are used to hitting and wrapping someone and having them go right down, Kean said. But the Tuckahoe players were making second and third efforts and breaking through our tackles.
Counts, who plays one of the linebacker positions for the Yellowjacket defense, and McCormick, a defensive back, agreed with their coach.
We just didnt tackle, Counts said.
I missed some tackles, we all missed tackles today, McCormick added.
McCormick noted that the Yellowjackets emotional win over Chester in the Section IX Class D title game just seven days prior to the regional contest may have took something out of the Eldred players.
It seemed like there was more hype for the sectional game, he said.
However, Kean and his players agreed that despite Fridays loss, the 2005 Eldred football season will be fondly remembered well into the future.
It feels good, Counts replied when asked about being the Section IX champions. Its nice because we have a close team, were all friends.
My teammates were great, McCormick said. We all worked so hard to win that section title.
And surely that Section IX championship plaque is one of the things that Kean will remember most about this season.
The loss today does not blemish what this team accomplished this season, he said. I am proud of them and very happy for them.