The Pearl River football team started strong in its return to Section 1 last season, winning its first six games and earning a spot in the playoffs.
To start fast again, the Pirates will have to beat the Rye Garnets team that eliminated Pearl River from the playoffs a year go with a .
"Last year's team wanted to add something to the tradition. Now that we were back in Section 1, they wanted a winning record," Pearl River football Head Coach Jeff Michael said. "These guys want to accomplish what the previous team couldn't do. That's beating Rye."
The teams will meet again at Pearl River Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in the opening game of the season for both teams.
"I think we’ve got a lot of pressure on us starting with the Rye game," Pearl River junior quarterback Chris Van Houten said during the Pirates' first week of practice. We are trying to get them from last year. Especially at home. That's motivation right there. That's all we're looking forward to now."
The teams that take the field Saturday will look very different from the ones that faced off in last year's playoffs. Pearl River returns only one starter on offense, senior guard Matt Erbacher, and one on defense, senior linebacker Eric Corcoran. Rye started 10 seniors on defense and nine on offense a year ago, so the Garnets are also testing new first stringers at almost every position.
One returning starter for Rye is sophomore quarterback Andrew Livingston, who took over early in his freshman season. Two-way starting tackle Andrew Aquilino and outside linebacker Jim Dugan are among the top returning players for the Garnets. Dugan scored a touchdown in Rye's victory at Pearl River last year. Livingston scored the Garnets' other touchdown, a one-yard plunge up the middle.
Pearl River has a talented young quarterback of its own in Van Houten, who will pull the trigger for a pass-oriented spread offense, a big change from the run-first approach the Pirates relied on in 2011. Van Houten's only varsity game experience so far came in the playoff loss to Rye. He played most of the fourth quarter, throwing one interception, but rallying to throw a touchdown pass for the Pirates' only score.