By Rob Potter
MIDDLETOWN Monticello’s fledgling varsity football team has made great strides in its two-year history, qualifying for the sectional playoffs each season. Yet, they keep running into a “wall” the formidable Cornwall Dragons, who once again ended the Panthers’ season with a 36-14 victory in a Section IX Class A football semifinal game at Faller Field in Middletown.
Cornwall (8-1) jumped out to a 16-0 lead over Monticello in the first quarter of Friday night’s game and coasted to its fourth lopsided win over the Panthers since 2010.
The Dragons will play Wallkill in the Class A championship game at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4 at Faller Field. Monticello ended its season with a 5-4 record.
“This was another solid season,” Monticello Coach Matt Buddenhagen said. “We lose a lot of seniors, about 15 of them. It’s only our second year of varsity [football] and we’re playing with the big dogs.
“This group of seniors has been with us for four years,” Buddenhagen continued. “They have worked their tails off. It takes a special person to play football and these guys are going to be great men and they’ll move on to be productive citizens.”
Monticello’s chances against a heavily favored Cornwall team were not helped with a less-than-100 percent Shane Jackson, the Panthers triple-threat quarterback still nursing a sprained ankle suffered two weeks ago against Port Jervis.
“Shane was maybe 75 percent,” said Buddenhagen, who noted that Jackson saw limited practice time during the week. “He’s a gutty kid and great competitor.”
Peter Catal scored the first two TDs for Cornwall. With 10:54 left in the first quarter, he reached the end zone on a 16-yard run. Then at the 6:46 mark, he ran for a 6-yard touchdown.
With 1:32 to go in the quarter, Damon Neil kicked a 24-yard field goal to increase the Dragons’ advantage to 16-0. Still Buddenhagen felt his team was in the game after moving the ball deep into Dragon territory early in the second quarter.
“We were knocking on the goal line and it could have been 16-8 at halftime,” Buddenhagen said. “We were lucky it wasn’t 35-0 at the end of the first quarter. They had the ball four times inside the 30-yard line.”
The second quarter drive Buddenhagen referenced was keyed by first-down runs by Jose Cruz and Shane Jackson and a pass from Jackson to Anthony Gray. Monticello was set up with a second-and-7 from the Cornwall 16-yard line.
But no gain on a running play and two incomplete passes forced the Panthers to turn the ball back over to the Dragons on downs.
Cornwall added to its lead later in the second quarter. With just 22.8 seconds left until halftime, quarterback Mike White threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Joe O’Rourke. Neil then kicked the extra point to give the Dragons a 23-0 advantage at the intermission.
With 7:55 to go in the third quarter, White tossed a 28-yard TD pass to Alex Cruz to push Cornwall’s lead to 29-0.
Monticello finally got on the scoreboard late in the third quarter. With 2:27 left in the quarter, defensive back Talon Watson intercepted a pass by White and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. Monticello quarterback Jackson then ran for the two-point conversion, which cut the Dragons’ lead to 29-8.
Cornwall scored its final TD of the night with 5:26 left in the fourth quarter. White ran into the end zone from 2 yards out on a quarterback keeper play. Neil’s extra-point boosted the Dragons’ advantage to 36-8.
It took the Panthers just one play to respond to that Dragons’ score. Mike Rogers caught a short kickoff at the Monticello 37-yard line. On first-and-10, Jackson threw the ball downfield to senior wide receiver Gray, who made a leaping catch near the 20-yard line and then outran a Cornwall defender to the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown. Jackson was stopped on the subsequent two-point conversion play, leaving the score at 36-14 in favor of Cornwall.
“It was a good game,” Cornwall Coach Marcus Hughes said. “We moved the ball well running and passing. Our defense played a good game.”
Hughes also lauded the Panthers for how they played.
“They also made mistakes early and they kept fighting,” he said. “Monticello is playing well and they are only going to get better.”
Hughes added that the Monticello trio of Jackson, Gray and senior tight end/defensive end Sean Reuss “are phenomenal.”
While Buddenhagen, his assistant coaches and players were disappointed to see their season end with a loss, Buddenhagen praised all of the Panthers.
“We have a great group of kids,” he commented. “They all worked very hard this season and didn’t quit.”
Notes: Catal was named the game’s Most Valuable Offensive Player.
O’Rourke was chosen as the game’s Most Valuable Defensive Player. He made five tackles, had a half a quarterback sack, made one interception and recovered a fumble.
The 15 Monticello seniors who played in their last game on Friday night are: Earl Allen, Connor Alvarez, Jermel Branch, Connor Briggs, Ian Campbell, Jose Cruz, Steve DeMestrio, Anthony Gray, Adam Kaiser, Garrett LaPolt, Brendan Madsen, Joe Mulvey, Sean Reuss, Brendan Thomas and Talon Watson.
Rushing: Jose Cruz, 15 carries, 61 yards; Shane Jackson, 15-37
Passing: Shane Jackson, 4-15, 87 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception
Receiving: Anthony Gray, 2-66 yards, 1 TD; Sean Reuss, 1-15; Connor Briggs, 1-6
Defense: Sean Reuss, 9 tackles, 4 solo; Jacob McLaughlin, 9 tackles, 3 solo; Mistah Alli, 8 tackles, 3 solo; Anthony Gray, 1 interception; Talon Watson, 1 interception, returned for 65-yard touchdown
Rushing: Peter Catal, 16 carries, 132 yards, 1 touchdown; Rashard Wroten, 11-41; Mike White, 3-22, 1 touchdown; Joe O’Rourke, 2-9
Passing: Mike White, 18-27, 178 yards, 3 TDs, 2 interceptions.
Receiving: Alex Cruz, 3-44, 1 TD; Kevin McNally, 2-38; Casey Kerdesky, 4-23; Chris Bauer, 3-22; Peter Catal, 2-22; Rashard Wroten, 2-15.