Pearl River senior captain Connor Madigan kept a tight grip on the Little Brown Jug during a pep rally at the high school Friday night.
The Pirates followed his lead Saturday at Pearl River, holding on to the jug with a 25-12 victory over the Nanuet Golden Knights, Pearl River's second consecutive victory over Nanuet, which had won the previous 13 meetings.
"They never showed us any mercy for the entire 13 years they bat us," Madigan said. "It was a good game. They played harder than we thought."
Pearl River improved to 6-0 heading into its final regular-season game Oct. 22 at Defending Class C state champion Bronxville and then the playoffs, dropping Nanuet to 3-3. Nanuet will finish the regular season at Our Lady of Lourdes Oct. 21.
"This is usually the biggest game of our season," said Pearl River senior Mike Brophy. "Now that we made the playoffs, we have something else to look forward to, but this was really important to us."
It looked like it would come easily to the Pirates as they jumped out to a 15-0 lead in the first quarter in dominating fashion.
"We told them we have to play without emotion," Pearl River Head Coach Jeff Michael said. "That’s when we played our good football today. When the game started we calmed down. We went into our business mode and moved the ball down the field, ground and pound and spread ‘em and shred ‘em. Then we started getting emotional and that’s when we got the penalties. I made a bad decision going for that fake punt. It was a bad call on my part. I got into the emotion. When we went back to our smart football, that’s when we played our best."
That included an opening scoring drive that started at the Nanuet 39 after a punt that only went 18 yards. Pearl River overcame a penalty for an illegal block on the nine-play scoring drive. Madigan got the Pirates close with a 15-yard run to the three, then scored from two yards out two plays later to give Pearl River a 7-0 lead.
The Pirates' defense forced the Golden Knights into another 3-and-out, this time taking over at their own 46. Pearl River needed only two plays to score this time, with Brophy completing a 54-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to Pat Burke.
Brophy is the Pirates' fullback, but he is also a former starter at quarterback and he normally attempts some deep passes for the Pirates. Michael said it helps keep defenses honest because they assume Brophy is going to run when he lines up at quarterback.
"Teams don't really look for me to throw the ball," Brophy said. "It's always open. It's a unique thing, but something that has evolved and it's something that works."
The Pirates went with their usual spread formation on the conversion. Quarterback John Brebbia, who is also the Pirates' holder, found kicker Connor O'Sullivan open to the right side for the two-point conversion pass and a 15-0 lead.
Nanuet did not get a first down until its fourth drive, when Mike McGreevey breaking loose for a 36-yard gain. The Golden Knights continued to challenge the Pirates' stout run defense all game long and McGreevey did finish with a game-high 85 yards on 15 carries. The Knights rushed for 134 yards as a team and gained 209 total yards in the contest.
"You know they will try to hit you in the mouth and try to come at you," Madigan said. "They got a couple of touchdowns, but if you look at it on tape, I think we won that matchup."
Nanuet failed to take advantage of McGreevey's run as sophomore quarterback Ryan Hanney fumbled and Andrew Cantone recovered for Pearl River to end the threat.
The Knights' special teams gave them another chance when Nick O'Conner intercepted a pass by Brophy on a fake punt and returned it to the Nanuet 47, the play Michael second-guessed himself on after the game.
Hanney completed a 23-yard pass to Chris Simonson and the Pirates gave Nanuet a first down with an encroachment penalty on a fourth-and-one. O'Conner finally got Nanuet on the board with a leaping grab of a five-yard pass from Hanney for a five-yard touchdown on another fourth down. The two-point conversion failed and Pearl River still held a 15-6 lead, which the Pirates took to the half.
Pearl River senior Connor O'Sullivan is known best for his field goal kicking and deep kickoffs, but he made a big play as a punter early in the third quarter with a 64-yard boot that pinned Nanuet at its own eight-yard-line. Nanuet fumbled on the next play and Burke recovered for Pearl River at the Golden Knights' six. Brophy scored from a yard out two plays later, extending Pearl River's lead to 22-6.
"That punt pinned them deep," Michael said. "That’s what led to a fumble recovery and that led to our third touchdown of the day. You could start seeing them drain a little bit on that side of the field."
O'Sullivan also made a 31-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter and got touchbacks on four of his five kickoffs.
"We might be (4-2) without him right now," Madigan said of O'Sullivan. "Nyack and Spring Valley, we might not have own. He's the best kicker I've seen."
Madigan and Brophy led a versatile running game for the Pirates, who gained 210 yards on the ground as a team and 278 yards of total offense. Brophy powered his way for 71 yards on 18 carries and Madigan had 60 yards on nine carries despite cramping up and missing much of the second half, something that has been an ongoing issue for him all season.
Sophomore Rob Gullo filled in and finished with 37 yards. That included an 11-yard run to convert a third-and-seven from the Pirates' six to help them hold the lead.
"A 10th grader being asked to play in the biggest game of the year for us and he rose to the occasion," Michael said. "It was huge for us."
Nanuet had one more comeback attempt left when Pearl River fumbled a punt and the Golden Knights' Dan Breit recovered at the Pirates' 31. Nanuet got to the Pearl River 10 on an interference call and O'Connor did the rest with a 10-yard touchdown run around the left side. Sean Wilson intercepted Hanney's pass on the two-point conversion attempt, keeping the Pearl River lead at 22-12.
O'Connor made play after play for Nanuet, scoring both touchdowns and coming up with the interception of Brophy.
Nanuet's last real chance ended when Josh Lipane intercepted Hanney with 5:34 remaining.
Editor's note: Check out two videos and Carol Dyer's photos attached to this article.
Pearl River 25, Nanuet 12
Nanuet 0 6 6 0 – 12
Pearl River 15 0 7 3 – 25
First downs: Nanuet: 10; Pearl River: 12
Rushing yards: Nanuet: 40-134; Pearl River: 42-210
Passing yards: Nanuet: 75; Pearl River: 68
Penalties: Nanuet 3-28; Pearl River: 7-50
Fumbles-Lost: Nanuet 2-2; Pearl River 2-1
Rushing: Nanuet: Mike McGreevey 15-85; James Shupe 7-25; Nick O’Connor 6-18, 1 TD; Dan Breit 6-4; Cody Fitzgerald 1-10; Mike Brophy 18-71, 1 TD; Connor Madigan 9-60, 1 TD; Josh Lipane 5-47; Rob Gullo 7-37; Mike O’Connell 1-4; John Brebbia 2-(-1)Pearl River:
Passing: Nanuet: Ryan Hanney: 5 of 13, 75 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int; Pearl River: John Brebbia 2 of 3 for 14 yards, Mike Brophy 1 of 4 for 54 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int.
Receiving: Nanuet: Nick O’Connnor 4-43, 1 TD, Chris Simonson 1-23; Cody Fitzgerald 1-9; Pearl River: Sean Wilson 2-14, Pat Burke 1-54, 1 TD