North County 11/23/94
THE FACE OF YORKTOWN FOOTBALL IS SMILING
A chilly northern wind was blowing sharply across the illuminated artificial surface of Dietz Stadium on this November night in Kingston, New York. A bus carrying the Yorktown Cornhuskers football team quietly rolled into the parking lot. After a few hours the 42 young men who step off it will board on the happy side of a 22-0 score. They will have defeated Massena High School for their 20th consecutive victory dating back to last season, earning them a chance to defend their title as Class B State Champions.
It was nearly one year ago to the day that they stood victorious on this very field. There had previously been no such thing as a State Championship then, and no one outside of the team understood how good they could be. It was as if they had taken a riverboat up the Nile searching for the unknown. This season has been different. Everyone knew how good the Cornhuskers could be. On this night nothing short of another trip to Syracuse and the Carrier Dome would do.
Faces from the graduating class of 1993 filtered into the picture to lend their support. There was the leader from last seasons foray into glory, James Bumper Robeson, clad in black and tugging on his old familiar #60 jersey. He began clapping vigorously an hour before kickoff. He was joined by the infectious laugh of Vinnie DAndraia, the silent confidence of John Benardi, and the piercing screams of Mike Myers. They were all here a year ago when a play-off game seemed like something out of a crazy dream. They were ones who paved the way for this night, and now the rest of us believed in the dream.
They are all talented athletes individually, but together they are champions, and champions they would stay…together.
I caught up with head coach, Ron Santavicca as his Cornhuskers waited for the Class C game to conclude. Sipping on a steaming cup of coffee, he extended his hand as he had done many times before on game day, in a television studio, or in the muddled comfort of his office at Yorktown High School. But this time the hand shake seemed to have a purpose. It was firmer than usual, like his expression–eyes widened, bottom lip tight. This was a man whom I’d covered for the better part of the last two Autumns, and although he always made me feel like a friend, it was at that moment I felt I knew what motivated him to lead this team. Right then I knew this game had been played a hundred times or more inside his head, and Yorktown had won every time.
”It’s all about the kids,” he said a few weeks ago on the occasion of his first regular season title at the school. Fighting back tears of joy, he wrapped his arms tightly around the neck of #13, Don Weese. ”They listen to the game plan,” he praised unabashedly. “They play hard on every down.”
Weese, celebrated weekly in these pages for his incredible feats of athleticism and sportsmanship, is one of those who play hard on every down. As the Class C game ended and the beaten Nanuet team marched in a line slowly by him, I could read the look in his eyes. This will not be us, they said. We will not know that walk. Not tonight. Not this year.
Later in the third quarter, after already having gobbled up a touchdown pass from quarterback, Matt Caione, he will be pounded to the turf and arise groggy. He will have to be dragged from the game, but for just two plays.
Phil Settembrino, who plays on every down on both lines, now walked by and faced the emptying field. For two seasons he and his line mates have dug deep into the trenches and anchored every yard both gained and given up, but his expression was that of a boy waiting to see his first Pop Warner action. “’Im nervous,” he tells me. ”If you can believe it.” I can believe it.
Later he will be pulled from the game for a few plays to get a breather from the constant pummeling a 200-pound Massena running back lays on him. But in the fourth quarter, after a Yorktown turnover deep in their own territory, he would push the very same back away from paydirt to preserve the precious shutout.
As the team headed for the locker room to pull on the uniform one more time, the eventual victory of this night would reflect in their expressions. ARhema Leach, MVP of the last two games, donned a smile as I wished him luck and told him to save a trophy for someone else. Before the game would be decided, his punishing inside runs would extend key drives and leave the Section One judges no choice but to hand him another. Pete Cariello, the fresh-faced sophomore defensive back, who alone has personally outscored most of Yorktowns opponents this year, looked relaxed. He would play an important role in defending the Massena sweep, and twice end an opponent possession a yard short. Robbie Anderson, whose game face is usually fully loaded by Wednesday, did not look relaxed nor did he so much as crack a smile. In fact, he failed to utter a word to anyone. His jolting hits would speak volumes between the lines.
Soon all the faces disappeared into their helmets for pre-game warm-ups and last-minute instructions from the ever-prepared coaches. The next time I saw them together they were all standing on the field holding hands and waiting for the game to begin; their tightening grips told another story of this night and this team. They are all talented athletes individually, but together they are champions, and champions they would stay…together.
Two hours and four quarters later the result would illustrate the point clearly. The faces were all smiles. Now that the northern winds had died down, I could hear every one of them saying in unison: One more to go.
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