By Rob Potter
MONTICELLO The Monticello Panthers scored two touchdowns in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter to earn a 37-28 victory over the visiting Minisink Valley Warriors in Saturday’s non-league football game.
With 5:58 displayed on the scoreboard, running back Jose Cruz ran up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown to give Monticello a 31-28 lead.
Then with 1:44 remaining in the game, Shane Jackson threw a 47-yard TD pass to Anthony Gray to give the Panthers a 37-28 advantage.
The Warriors drove deep into Monticello territory on their subsequent possession. But Jackson sealed the Panthers’ win over Minisink Valley, a Class AA team, when he intercepted a pass near the goal line with 50 seconds to go in the game.
Minisink Valley (1-1) took its first lead of the game at 26-25 when Ryan Callaghan threw a 98-yard touchdown pass to Yovino Frankie with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter. Frank Mayo then ran for the two-point conversion to extend the Warriors’ advantage to 28-25.
Monticello (1-1) took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Jackson ran for a 13-yard TD and Angelo Niforatos made the extra-point kick.
With 11:42 to go in the second quarter, Jackson tossed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Gray to give the Panthers a 13-0 advantage.
The Warriors cut their deficit when Callaghan connected with Jeff Newlin on a 45-yard touchdown pass with 9:23 remaining in the second quarter. Colin Cazzetta nailed the PAT kick to make it a 13-7 game.
But Monticello answered with a 65-yard scoring drive capped by Jackson’s 10-yard touchdown run. The score gave the Panthers a 19-7 lead with 3:45 left until halftime.
The Panthers pushed their advantage to 25-7 with 5:52 to go in the third quarter as Jackson threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Gray.
Minisink Valley needed just a few seconds to respond, however. An excellent kickoff return gave the Warriors a first-and-10 at the Panthers’ 33-yard line. Newlin ran around the left side for a 33-yard touchdown. Cazzetta then added the extra-point to cut the Monticello lead to 25-14 with 5:28 remaining in the third quarter.
The Warriors closed their deficit to five points at 25-20 when Brantley Rommel ran 12 yards into the end zone with 1:55 left in the third quarter.
Jackson was the offensive leader for Monticello. The junior QB completed 14 of 21 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed 26 times for 183 yards and two TDs.
Jose Cruz carried the ball 22 times for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Gray was the Panthers’ top receiver with nine receptions for 175 yards and three TDs. Sean Reuss caught two passes for 30 yards, while Mike Rogers caught one pass for 6 yards and Talon Watson had one catch for 15 yards.
Mistah Alli, Gray and Reuss were the leaders of the Panthers’ defense. Gray recorded six solo tackles, Reuss made four solo tackles and four assisted tackles and Alli had four solo tackles and two assisted tackles.
“This is a huge win for us, one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” Monticello Coach Matt Buddenhagen said. “Minisink Valley rolled in here with 60 guys and they are a program that’s been around forever.”
Buddenhagen was quick to credit the Panthers’ offensive line for its performance.
“The offensive line never gets recognition, nobody hears about the offensive line and the offensive line never gets mentioned in the newspaper,” Buddenhagen said. “It’s the hardest position on the field because those guys have to think on their feet and make adjustments on every play.
“Our offensive line was absolutely awesome today,” he added. “All of them were awesome Brendan Madsen, Brendan Thomas, Ian Campbell, Jermel Branch, Garrett Lapolt and Sean Reuss at tight end.”
Buddenhagen also praised Cruz for “running hard on every play and picking up some tough yards.”
Buddenhagen, who is in his second season of leading the Panthers, noted that some people told him the team would start the season 0-3.
“We have a difficult schedule the first three games,” he said. “But I felt we could be 1-2 in those games. This win gives us great momentum for our game at Cornwall next week.”
Minisink Valley Coach Kevin Gallagher lauded the Panthers.
“You have to give them a lot of credit,” he said. “They played a great game, the kind of game they needed to play to beat us. I won’t say we didn’t play well but when you have big play capability like they have, you’re always one play from getting back into it, which they did after we got the lead.”