Pearl River Head Coach Jeff Michael warned his team before Thursday's Section 1 Class A quarterfinal game at home against Rye that the Garnets would jump on any mistakes the Pirates made.
"I referred to them as a lion waiting on their prey to make the first mistake," Michael said. "They saw it and jumped all over it. They waited for us to make a bad move and we made a bad move."
The bad move opened the door for Rye fullback Joe Simolacaj to rip off a 41-yard run down to the Pearl River 10. Three plays later, wide receiver James Dugan ran for a 10-yard touchdown on a counter play to give Rye the lead it would never lose in a 14-7 victory over Pearl River.
"That just got the momentum going for them and they fed off of that," Michael said.
"We did what we had to do," Rye Coach Dino Garr said. "We knew it would be a sloppy game. We had to get a lead. Defensively, we were solid all game except at the end. I thought we had a great game for us."
Garr knew the game would be a sloppy one due to the rain that fell most of the day Thursday and all through the game, which turned Pearl River's home field into a muddy mess.
"We absolutely wanted this," Michael said. "We are a gritty team from a gritty town. We wanted a game like today, a knock-down, drag-out game. That's exactly what we got. Unfortunately, we were on the losing end."
Pearl River's offense spent most of the game stuck in the mud. Many of the Pirates, especially quarterback/fullback Mike Brophy, struggled with their footing and Rye held Pearl River under 100 yards of total offense until the Pirates' final drive of the game.
Pearl River finished with 74 yards rushing on 31 carries and only 131 yards of total offense.
"That was one thing, I wish we had the ability to switch cleats," Michael said when asked of his players' trouble with footing. "We did what we could. We adjusted at halftime. We moved a little better in the second half. We could never really get anything going. It was always an incomplete pass or a sloppy play here and there."
Both teams had the same problems offensively in the first quarter. Neither offense could do much until Simolacaj's big run. He burst through a big hole on the left side and raced down the sideline before finally being dragged down at the 10. Two plays later, Dugan took a counter right, cut inside and fought through tacklers at the two to score the game's first touchdown.
"They kept their feet going and their linemen kept going," Michael said. "They overpowered us there."
Simolacaj pounded his way for 120 yards rushing on 21 carries and was the only offensive player on either team to sustain any success.
"Today, with the way the weather was, Joe became more of a feature back," Garr said. "He is a load. He's a three-year starter, one of our leaders. The kids rely on him."
Rye took control of the contest on Pearl River's next drive. Pirates quarterback John Brebbia tried a pass to the left sideline, but it was tipped in the air and intercepted by Rye's Andrew Hudson. Hudson returned the ball from midfield to the Pearl River one.
"It's a tunnel screen to the outside to our split end," Michael said. "Unfortunately, it got tipped up in the air and that one kid was at the right place at the right time and almost took it to the house."
Two plays later, freshman quarterback Andrew Livingston finished the job and scored on a sneak up the middle to extend Rye's lead to 14-0.
"It was their jailbreak," Garr said. "They do it to either side. Our kids were prepared for it. It was a great play. The (receiver) could have caught it, but it went off his hands. That's part of football. Andrew Hudson had a great game for us offensively and defensively."
Rye had the opportunity to extend the lead early in the third quarter, but Jake Meyerson missed on a 30-yard field goal.
With Brebbia and Brophy both struggling to grip the ball, Pearl River tried sophomore Chris Van Houten, who was playing on the varsity for the first time after a strong junior varsity season.
Van Houten's first attempt was intercepted by Rye, but he did lead the Pirates to their only score of the contest. Van Houten completed three consecutive passes on Pearl River's final drive of the game, a 13-yarder to Brophy, a 12-yarder to Connor Madigan and an 18-yard touchdown to Sean Wilson that cut Rye's lead to 14-7 with 36.6 seconds remaining.
"For him to step up like that was pretty solid," Michael said. "To be honest, he was the quarterback with the driest hands."
Pearl River and Van Houten never got another chance as Rye recovered the on-sides kick to lock up the victory.
Rye (5-3) ran its winning streak to five games and will play Tuesday, Nov. 1 against Somers or John Jay.
Pearl River (6-2) saw its first trip to the playoffs since 2007 come to an end, but Michael saw the season as something to build upon.
"I'm proud of the guys," Michael said. "I've had this group since they were freshmen. Just to see how they've grown and the program has grown with them.
Last year, we were in the developmental league and they were instrumental in helping us finish 7-2. People say we played a weak schedule, but we beat Nyack for the first time in 25 years and we beat Spring Valley for the first time ever. We're going to use this as the next step in our growth."
Pearl River held a moment of silence before the game for Tom Cupples, a former long-time music teacher and band leader at Pearl River High School who passed away.