RYE - For the first time all season, Rye finally had its entire backfield intact last night. Luke O'Malley, the fastest player on the Garnets roster, returned from a hamstring strain suffered in the preseason, joining an explosive group of backs.
Against a defense as rugged as Byram Hills, Rye needed every weapon it had.
The Bobcats gave the defending state champions everything it could handle in last night's showdown of unbeaten Class B football powers. The Garnets fought off the upset bid, pulling out a 21-7 victory behind a stellar effort from their own defense.
"We kind of had a wake-up call tonight," Rye senior Kyle Ramalho said. "I think some guys thought we'd have it easy and that can't happen. Byram Hills is a great team and I wouldn't be surprised if we see them again."
Byram Hills, which entered the game ranked third in The Journal News Class B, clearly gave the top-ranked Rye its toughest test of the season.
The five-time sectional champion Garnets, who have now won 53 straight vs. Section 1 teams, got a huge break in the fourth quarter. Leading 14-7 with just over eight minutes left, they punted the ball away. Ramalho's kick soared nearly 60 yards in the air and a Byram Hills player touched it inside the 15-yard line.
Andrew Wood recovered it for Rye, setting up Connor Eck's 14-yard touchdown pass to Donald Keough on the next play.
"We turned the ball and we have to get up and play defense there," Byram Hills coach John Naughton said. "But give credit to them. They came out and put it in. Rye makes plays when it has to. That's what they've been doing for five years. That's why Rye is Rye."
Eck continued his stellar quarterback play for the Garnets. The sophomore completed 7 of 8 passes for 90 yards, and rushed for 41 yards on four carries. Keough caught four of Eck's passes for 70 yards.
O'Malley, a senior running back, gave Rye a quick spark in the first quarter. He keyed a scoring drive on its first possession of the game with 31 yards rushing, including a 5-yard touchdown run.
"Connor's been playing great," Rye coach Dino Garr said. "He knows the offense and what he should do. I'm pleased with the way everyone is stepping up and playing well. You need to have a well-balanced team. We're starting to get back in that rhythm."
Byram Hills tied the game at 7-7, eating up nearly seven minutes on the following drive and scoring on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Erik Britz to Jonathan Ross.
Rye assumed control over the next six minutes, driving 68 yards and taking a 14-7 lead on Ramalho's 3-yard plunge.
The Bobcats struggled to keep anything going offensively in the second half until the final minutes. They drove to the Rye 11 with two minutes to play but couldn't get in the end zone.
"We knew this was a team that could come stick it to us," Eck said. "But we were able to stick it right back."
In a physical, hard-hitting game, the fact Byram Hills made Rye's starters play into the fourth quarter is a feat in itself.
"We always talk about getting better, and we got better tonight," Naughton said. "It was a good effort by our team and it was good for our program. Hopefully these kids take out that they can play with anyone."