Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO Neither defense showed up for Saturday afternoon's battle of the Panthers between Monticello and Wallkill as the teams combined for 94 points.
In the end, though, Wallkill's relentless air and ground game proved too much, outlasting Monticello 56-38 in an OCIAA, Class A matchup punctuated by lots of penalties and turnovers.
"Well, it's been the same story for us all season, too many turnovers and too many penalties," said Monticello coach Matt Buddenhagen. "We should have been coming into this game 3-1, but you just can't win games with so many mistakes."
After Monticello's Mistah Alli opened the game with an 80-yard kickoff return to put Monticello ahead 7-0, Wallkill’s high-powered, hurry-up offense went to work, scoring 28 first-half points. Monticello fueled Wallkill’s attack with several penalties and miscues. A couple of promising drives stalled out, one courtesy of three consecutive illegal motion infractions.
Despite the eight flags thrown against Monticello in the first half, the local Panthers managed to squeeze in a score just before the intermission on a beautiful 39-yard pass from Jonathan Harned to Mike Rogers. The PAT attempt by Niforatos was blocked making the score a manageable 28-13 heading into halftime.
"We've got to stop the penalties guys, it has to stop!," Buddenhagen barked at his team as the halftime whistle blew.
The second half started much like the first as Wallkill senior Mike Greco took the opening kickoff to the house on a 75-yard return. Matt Iorlano's PAT gave Wallkill a 35-13 cushion. Not to be outdone, Alli kept Monticello in the game on the ensuing kickoff, racing 85 yards for his second return for a touchdown.
"When you return a kick for a touchdown it's great, but then you realize you've given up two and it really hurts," said Wallkill coach Brian Vegliando.
Monticello's defense was pumped and seemed to be adjusting to the hurry-up as Wallkill would go three and out on its next drive. Monticello started at its own 43-yard line and after a first-down gain, a key injury to center Travon Rainey seemed to deflate the offense. But a timely roughing the passer call gave Monticello a first down in Wallkill territory. After two very short gains, on third down and under a lot of pressure, Harned hit Mike Rogers for a first down. Two plays later Alli would blast up the middle for a 25-yard touchdown that brought Monticello within nine points with 6:49 left in the third.
"It was hard to relax today, we just couldn't get a good lead we could keep," said Vegliando. "I give Monticello all the credit in the world, they executed and at times they controlled the pace and tempo of the game."
That’s as close as Monticello would get, though. Wallkill quarterback Joe Pillitteri tossed another touchdown pass and and running back Josh Villafane ran for two more to put the game away.
"We really shot ourselves in the foot with all the penalties too many mistakes," said Buddenhagen. "You know we got to within nine points there in the third and we really had a shot, we were still in that game.”
Though a win is a win, Vegliando knows his team will have to get better if they are to advance in sectional play.
"I would never have expected a three-hour football game, it was sloppy, it was a sloppy football game," said Vegliando. "We really need to clean some things up, I said to the guys [that] we need to get sharper, we need to execute better on offense, defense, and obviously on special teams."
Pillitteri finished with 261 yards and three touchdowns on 17 of 20 passing, while Villafane rushed for 140 yards on 24 carries.
Ever the statesman, Pilletteri credited his coach and his running back for opening up the pass for him.
“It's always great when coach can set you up to be throwing in those [ideal] situations,” said Pilletteri. “To be throwing to wide open receivers is just great play calling from coach. He [Villafane] is a fantastic running back. Any team is gonna go out there and try to stop him and sort of focus on him. He's one of the best in Section IX. Of course that's gonna open up the pass."
Monticello's Harned finished the game with 214 yards on 11 of 19 passing with one touchdown and an interception. Harned also carried the ball 15 times for 64 yards and a touchdown while Alli carried 22 times for 101 yards with four touchdowns, two of them the kickoff returns.
"He's been with the program for five years now and he's just a great, hardworking kid, a leader,” said Buddenhagen of Alli. “He had a great day running the ball and on special teams, the kid works his butt off, and in his first year at running back, it's just great to see him succeed.”
Monticello plays at Port Jervis Friday in what Buddenhagen is calling a "playoff game." "This is a playoff game for us, that's how we're treating it because if we lose this one, there won't be any playoffs."