By Frank Rizzo
MAHOPAC November 13, 2007 Drama, emotion and a stunning reversal of fortune were on the menu in Saturday’s Class D state quarterfinal, which saw Eldred fall to Section I champ Haldane 19-14 on a late touchdown at Mahopac High School.
And just as Giants fans will be haunted by “The Fumble,” Yellow Jacket coaches and players and spectators might come to regard the defining play in Saturday’s game as “The Right (Wrong) Flare.”
Thirty seconds showed on the game clock when Eldred lined up at its 39, facing a fourth-and-1 and having impressively driven from its own 2.
Haldane, thinking run, stacked the middle. Eldred QB Stan Smith took the snap and rolled back and started to his right.
Unfortunately the play called for a flare left, a pitchout to halfback Kevin Prunka to go around the left end.
“Kevin was open, it would have gone for at least a first down if not a touchdown … nobody was out there guarding him,” said Eldred coach Frank Kean.
“We were confident about the play,” he added, dismissing any thoughts of second guesses.
Haldane freshman Matt Giachinta took advantage of this confusion and found his way into the backfield and sacked Smith for a 5-yard loss.
Seconds later Giachinta completed his bedeviling of Smith when he gathered the winning 35-yard pass from quarterback Robert Percacciolo. Smith, now playing cornerback, leaped for the high arching pass and managed to deflect it only to watch it fall right into Giachinta’s hands.
It was a crushing ending for the senior, who had ably filled in for regular quarterback Bryan Henry out since the previous Tuesday with a broken wrist.
For most of the first half Eldred could have been singing a variation of the Shania Twain tune “That Don’t Impress Me Much.”
“So you knocked off the defending state champs?
That don’t impress us.”
Haldane (3-5) came in with the momentum of an emotional 12-6 win over 2006 Class D titlists Tuckahoe in the Section I title game.
Eldred (7-3) forced punts on the Blue Devils’ first three possessions and a fumble on their fourth.
Meanwhile, Christian Martinez had punched it in from the 1 and Bobby Warden split the uprights to give Eldred a 7-0 lead with 4:19 elapsed.
Then came one of the turning points, late in the second quarter. Warden’s 51-yard punt rolled to the Haldane 5 and the Yellow Jacket seemed to have Haldane bottled up. But on third-and-9 from the 6, Evan Campbell ran a counter for 44 yards (and the Blue Devils’ first first down of the game) with less than four minutes left in the half.
Suddenly Haldane found its offensive mojo and went on to tie the game with just nine seconds left in the half.
Eldred shrugged off this Haldane confidence booster by putting together an impressive drive, highlighted by a Prunka’s fourth down conversion, to start the third quarter. But having reached the Haldane 26, the Yellow Jackets fumbled and Haldane recovered.
The Blue Devils responded with a 72-yard scoring drive to take the 13-7 lead, but missed the extra point.
Eldred went ahead in the fourth as Prunka weaved his way in from the 6 and Warden kicked the PAT with 7:33 left.
Haldane continued its offensive resurgence, reaching the Yellow Jacket 33, but the defense rose to the challenge and sacked Percacciolo two straight times for 11-yard losses and forced the punt that rolled to the Eldred 2 with 4:31 left in the game.
Eldred seemed poised to run out the clock until the fateful turn of events.
Haldane head coach Tony Percacciolo took a cell phone call amidst his team’s celebrations.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe this!” he kept telling his caller over and over.
“We made a lot of big plays when we needed to,” he said after hanging up. “That was a big dogfight out there… Eldred was big up front and I give Frank [Kean] credit… he’s a gentleman.”
One of the prime motivators for Eldred was to beat a Section I school; teams from across the Hudson have ravaged Section IX competition the past decade or more.
“Playing against any Section I team will make you better,” Percacciolo said, noting his team’s schedule laden with big schools.
The outcome had Eldred players stunned, naturally.
“In the postgame huddle they were crying and asking, ‘Why us, Mr. Kean?’” Kean related. “I told them one day they would lose [a relative] or friend… these things are pre-determined.
“In my 33 years I’ve seen about 20 games that ended like this,” he added.
In his last three years Kean’s football squads have gone 25-7 with two Class D titles (and a loss last year in the D championship game).
Two of this year’s losses in the regular season were by one point.
“We’ve had great seasons,” Kean said. “I’m very proud of this team and the community support. “Winning the Section IX title is always our goal anything else is just gravy.
“But I would love to have had football practice on Monday,” he added.
Notes: Prunka (17 rushes for 100 yards) and Martinez (16/99) paced the rushing attack. Linebacker Nick Simonelli led with six tackles and finished with 128 for the season.