Fourth down, forever to go

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:52

    KINGSTON-Afterwards, the players and coaches said it wasn't this game they would remember. No, they would remember each other and what this team accomplished during three months in 2004. And those will be pretty special memories, even when all good things come to an end. That's what happened last Friday to the Monroe-Woodbury dream 2004 season as the Crusaders were routed by the defending state champion New Rochelle in the Eastern State finals at Dietz Stadium in Kingston by a score of 41-0. "It's almost impossible for me to say goodbye to this team," said head coach Pat D'Aliso as senior Matt O'Brien kissed his forehead. "I am not going to remember our games. I am going to remember this team as a family. It took me 50 years to learn a lesson that this is only a game." During the post game award ceremony, the Crusaders gave the coach a final sendoff, rising from a knee and giving him a standing ovation for all his hard work. "It's not about winning and losing," said senior center Joe Scalo. "It's about what we have done and the memories we have made this year." The Crusaders (11-1) are the first Section 9, Class AA team to advance into the state semifinals. "We made history," said senior linebacker Dennis Jones. "I played Pop Warner with all these guys. We live together." "What a great group of kids that I got to play with," said Monroe-Woodbury all-state quarterback Matt Stack. "This year made me realize how lucky I was to be a part of this team the last four years." As a four-year starter, Stack led the potent option offense on countless scoring drives. But the Crusaders were stymied by a defense that allowed just 32 points all year, while New Rochelle's offense, led by 2003 New York State Player of the Year and Syracuse University bound Ray Rice, scored 440. "They are the best football team we have ever seen," said senior running back Ray Graziano. "We prepared and worked hard all week but they were just better. It didn't go our way." Monroe-Woodbury managed to move the ball 15 yards on their first possession. But an incomplete third-and-five pass forced Monroe-Woodbury to punt. "I knew we had to come out and try to establish something," said Stack. "When we didn't, I think we got nervous." If they weren't nervous then, they were when Rice got the ball. First carry, 10 yards. Next, plus 15. Soon, he would be in the end zone on a two-yard run that capped an eight-play, 69-yard scoring drive with 3:56 left in the quarter. He missed the point after touchdown as the Huguenots led 6-0. Danny Lexandra picked up a first down with an eight-yard burst on third-and-four the next time the Crusaders got the ball. But on first-and-10 the unthinkable happened. Stack was sacked by James Alfano. It was the first time in over a month that the talented offensive line allowed their quarterback to go down. A Lexandra run for one yard and an incomplete pass forced another Gerald Jones punt. Rice then went up the gut for 13, off right tackle for 12. Six more plays, six more points. Justin Johnson ran in from 11 yards out. QB Geoff McDermott passed to Johnson for two points after and it was 14-0 at the 10:08 mark. On New Rochelle's next possession, Rice really got it going, scoring on a 30-yard run to finish off a five-play, 53-yard drive. Greg Davis' run made it 22-0 at 6:33. "Rice is a great player," said Crusader MLB Dennis Jones. "He wasn't a very nice guy but when you are that good, you don't have to be." Jones added that during the coin toss when the captains had introduced themselves to each other, Rice said, "You know who I am!" to each of the Crusader captains. Two more second quarter touchdowns followed. The first came when Kees Coughlin blocked an M-W punt that was recovered in the end zone by Defensive MVP Richard Kissi. A PAT kick by Davis made it 29-0 at 4:39. Then, after Rice had rushed 58 yards on three carries, McDermott ran for a nine-yard TD to complete a seven-play, 71-yard drive with 46 seconds left in the half. At the halftime, the state's top ranked team led 35-0. Rice finished the half with 162 yards, on just 14 carries. As a team Monroe-Woodbury netted only 48 yards of offense, all on the ground. "He's the best player I've ever seen," said junior Neil Ingenito of Rice. To start the second half, the Crusaders' defense forced a punt. But a three-and-out killed any momentum they might have gained. Then it took the Huguenots just four plays to score their final touchdown. Fittingly, Rice scored from 12 yards away. But he missed his second extra point and New Rochelle led 41-0 with 5:16 left in the third period. The Crusaders forced three fumbles in the final period to keep the score the same. Ingenito recovered a Rice fumble on a punt return and Mike Slavosky jumped on a fumble by Justin McGhee. Chris Johnson later scooped up a drop by backup Johnathan Garnett. After that last turnover Stack hit O'Brien on a 27-yard pass, the Crusaders' longest gain of the night. But that drive died at the New Rochelle 19. Stack's final passing stats read three-for-12-for-35 yards and an interception. Rice finished with 18 carries, for 189 yards, and three scores. He was the obvious choice for the Offensive MVP award. "Monroe is the best team we played all year," said Rice. M-W had 107 yards rushing against the very hard-hitting and exceptionally quick Huguenot defense. "This doesn't take away what we did all year," said Graziano. "We played our hearts out. This season brought back memories of playing Pop Warner with Matt (Stack) and Danny (Lexandra). I'm proud we did what we did this year and nothing can take that away from me."