WALLKILL - The Rondout Ganders stayed undefeated with a win in the rain at Wallkill Friday night, beating the Panthers by a score of 8-6. And they did it with their defense this time, stonewalling Wallkill's offense on three key drives -- two of them late in the game -- to preserve the win.
Rondout got on the board early when Wallkill junior running back Marc Mazza fumbled the opening kickoff. The Ganders recovered and drove the ball into the end zone just 8 plays later, with Rondout senior quarterback Dan Steers taking it in from one yard out for the touchdown. Rondout opted to go for two points on the PAT, and junior tight end Ben Waruch hauled in Steers' pass to make it 8-0 with 7:24 left in the first quarter.
Wallkill's Mazza held onto the ball on the ensuing kickoff, returning it to his own 39 yard line. However, on the next play, the Panthers' first from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Seth Ewald fumbled it back to Rondout, giving the Ganders a 1st-and-10 at the Wallkill 34 yard line.
After the Ganders had moved the ball down to the Wallkill 9 yard line, the Panthers' defense stood its ground. Helped by a 10-yard offensive holding penalty and junior linebacker Mark Christiana's 5-yard sack of Steers, Wallkill forced an incomplete pass on 4th-and-goal with 3:51 left in the opening quarter.
After another fumble, this time recovered by Wallkill senior running back Paulo Alvear, and a 19-yard completion from Ewald to senior receiver Zach Henke, Wallkill found itself with a first down at its own 42 yard line. The next play called for an option play to go to Mazza on the left side of the line, but the Gander defense sniffed out the play quickly. Mazza somehow managed to find daylight, though, and dashed down the sideline for a 58-yard touchdown. But Ewald's pass into the end zone on the ensuing 2-point conversion attempt fell incomplete. Wallkill cut the Rondout lead to 8-6 with 1:36 to go in the first quarter.
The Ganders' next drive was stifled by the newly energized Wallkill defense, and Rondout was forced to punt. But Wallkill senior defensive back Rob Benjamin had other thoughts. He blocked Steers' punt, and senior linebacker Matt Ortiz recovered at the Rondout 13 yard line. The Panthers moved the ball 7 yards closer for sophomore kicker Chris Keller, but his 23-yard attempt was no good.
At the half, Rondout lead was still a slim 8-6.
Midway through the third quarter, Wallkill was faced with the unenviable task of having to start a drive at its own 1 yard line. On 3rd-and-8 from the 3 yard line, Ewald threw a slippery floater down the field that fell into Henke's arms at the Wallkill 27 yard line to keep the drive alive. Another pass to senior tight end Conor Miller 9 plays later on 3rd-and-7 went 30 yards to the Rondout 19. But the Gander defense held up, and Keller missed another field goal attempt, this time from 33 yards out.
But Wallkill would get another opportunity to score the go-ahead points shortly thereafter when Steers mishandled the center exchange with 7:14 left in the game. Wallkill got possession and quickly moved inside the Ganders' 17 yard line. But again, the Rondout defense was up to the task, pushing the Panthers back to the Rondout 25 yard line. A halfback pass by Mazza on 4th-and-18 never got to develop, and the Ganders were able to run off the remaining 3:36 for the win.
Steers ended with 54 yards on 4-8 passing for Rondout, along with just 1 yard on 8 carries. He scored the lone Gander touchdown, too. Waruch caught two passes for 21 yards to go along with his 2-point conversion catch. Senior running back Bobby Mei added 44 yards on 12 rushes, and juniors Joey Viviani and Luis Delgado added 34 yards and 39 yards respectively, each on just 6 carries.
On the other side, Wallkill got 85 yards on 5-7 passing from Ewald with just one interception. He carried 5 times, netting 0 yards. Henke caught 3 passes for 53 yards, and Mazza rushed 8 times for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Next up for Rondout (3-0, 1-0 in Class A) is a Thursday night showdown on the road with the Red Raiders of Port Jervis. You can catch the game on the Oldies 1490 WDLC in Port Jervis or on the web at www.wgny.net/portfootball.htm. Kick off is at 7:30 pm. Meanwhile, Wallkill (1-2, 1-1) travels to FDR next Thursday at 7:00 pm for a non-league match up.
--- Tom Morel