Just call it a leap of faith.
Tony Fusco jumped high over a defender and danced into the end zone to give Shenendehowa a 13-10 double-overtime victory against North Rockland Saturday night in a rock-em, sock-em state Class AA quarterfinal game at Dietz Stadium.
“Teddy [Van Galen] threw a great ball for me, and the line blocked for me,” Fusco said after his dramatic touchdown that not only prolonged Shenendehowa’s season, but also the career of retiring coach Brent Steuerwald. “I knew I could get it in.”
Both teams missed field-goal attempts in the first overtime before Paul Prendergast connected in the second from 35 yards out to give North Rockland the lead. That set up Shenendehowa’s quick touchdown drive that took three plays and propelled the Plainsmen (11-0) to their first state tournament win since the 2002 season.
“We came in as the underdogs,” said Steuerwald after one of the most thrilling of his 318 career wins. “The dog bit back.”
The Plainsmen saw a 7-0 lead turn into a tie, and needed to rally late in a game for the first time this year.
“We knew we could come back,” Fusco said. “We’ve been practicing for this all year.”
Shenendehowa’s season of domination included last week’s 49-6 Super Bowl rout of Columbia when Fusco delivered five touchdowns, and 45-20 and 35-7 sectional triumphs over LaSalle and Shaker before that. The Plainsmen opened their campaign with four consecutive shutout wins.
“When you move to state-level competition, everything is different. It’s the best against the best,” said Steuerwald. “It’s no surprise this was such a battle.”
“We hadn’t been in a close game this year,” said Van Galen. “To finally have one and win it, it feels great.”
Van Galen threw a 10-yard pass to Derek Boland to begin Shenendehowa’s second overtime possession, Fusco ran for a yard, and then turned a short pass into the final nine yards to extend his school single-season touchdown record to 32. It was only the second receiving touchdown for the senior running back, though.
“It was a great game. It was two physical teams going at it,” said Fusco, who rushed for 125 yards on 26 carries and produced both touchdowns for the state’s No. 3-ranked team. “I’m glad we pulled it out.”
Fusco caught Van Galen’s looping pass in the left flat, ran down the sideline and, at the four, leaped over North Rockland defensive back Rachon Johnson to avoid a tackle. From there, all that was left was for Fusco to high-step it in as the Plainsmen and their fans went wild.
“I dropped back, and there was immediate pressure,” said Van
Galen, who was 11-for-17 passing 119 yards. “I was on my back when I saw him go up and score. To see him hurdle that kid like that was amazing.”
The touchdown and a big break in the first overtime enabled Shenendehowa to end a nine-game win streak by North Rockland (Section I, 9-2), and advance to Saturday’s 7 p.m. state semifinals against Newburgh Free Academy (Section IX, 8-1) at Dietz Stadium.
Shenendehowa’s last state tourney win in 2002 came against Newburgh Free in the semifinal round. Shenendehowa beat North Rockland in a quarterfinal before that.
“I thought it was a great effort on our part tonight,” said Steuerwald. “We’ll need another one if we are going to get to the Carrier Dome [for the state final]. State tournament games are hard to win.”
Corey Acker missed a 32-yard field goal to end Shenendehowa’s first overtime bid, and Prendergast missed on a 30-yard attempt soon after, both boots sailing wide left.
“I was going to break down if he made that. I’m sure of it,” Van
Galen said of Prendergast’s attempt. “I went nuts when he missed.”
North Rockland got the ball to start the second overtime, and Prendergast drilled his 35-yarder clean and though after a two-yard run by Tom Ginty and two incomplete passes.
Ginty rushed for 110 yards on 14 carries, with the senior’s seven-yard run on third-and-five pushing the ball to the one in the third quarter. Raiders’ quarterback Devin Bovino then scored on a sneak and Prendergast kicked the extra point to cap a 12-play, 65-yard drive that knotted the game at seven.
Fusco’s 30-yard scamper and Acker’s PAT had given Shenendehowa a 7-0 lead in the second frame, those efforts capping a 12-play, 92-yard series. Van Galen hit Kory Felix for 16 yards and ran for 18 on a third-and-nine, and Ryan McCart had a 13-yard run, during the march.
Ryan Buss recovered a fumble on North Rockland’s ensuing kickoff at the 28, but Shenendehowa stalled on downs. Buss also made a touchdown-saving tackle on Ginty after his 45-yard sprint into the open field in the first quarter.
Shenendehowa 0 7 0 0 0 6 — 13
North Rockland 0 0 7 0 0 3 — 10
S–Fusco 30 run (Acker kick).
NR–Bovino 1 run (Prendergast kick).
NR–Prendergast 35 FG.
S–Fusco 9 pass from Van Galen (no attempt).