KINGSTON - Across Section 1, Kyle Ramalho first earned respect as a running back when he joined the varsity three seasons ago as a freshman.
Ever since then he has been the bully in Rye's diverse offense, capable of making would-be tacklers regret standing in the way.
More often than not, Ramalho's running overshadowed the fact that he's a pretty darn good defensive tackle, too. But that was simply impossible to do last night. The 220-pound senior sparked an inspired defensive effort in the bitter cold and vicious wind at Dietz Stadium.
Charged with stopping a player with 2,477 yards rushing in 11 games, Ramalho broke into the backfield to tackle Hudson Falls' decorated senior Joe McMurray for a loss on the first play of the game. The Garnets never looked back - only ahead - as they beat the Section 2 champ 34-7 in last night's state semifinals.
"We said, we're coming. We're gonna be there and it's not going to be an easy night," coach Dino Garr said. "We knew we'd be OK if we could set that attitude with our defensive line because we knew they were very strong up front."
Rye (11-0) advanced to its fifth state final in six years. The Garnets will seek their first-ever back-to-back state championships and their third all time when they meet Section 3's Oneida at 4 p.m. next Sunday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Garr and defensive coordinator Tom Maloney will go north with a defense that throttled McMurray, who entered the game with an eye toward breaking Section 2's single-season rushing record. Instead, the Garnets held him to 78 yards on 29 carries, including just 14 yards in the first half.
McMurray rushed the ball on four of Hudson Falls' first five plays, and all four times he was tackled by Ramalho within arm's length of the line of scrimmage.
"They're a great team," said McMurray, a low Division I recruit. "They came in here like they had something to prove and they proved it. They hit hard and they were quick."
Ramalho, who starts but normally plays limited snaps on defense to keep him fresh, had eight tackles in the first half. He wasn't needed after that, as Rye piled up a 27-0 halftime lead.
Hudson Falls had its first drive end abruptly when Pat O'Callaghan intercepted a third-down pass and returned it to the 11. Ramalho scored five plays later.
The Garnets forced three-and-outs the rest of the half with one exception. Leading 20-0, they were caught napping by a fake-punt pass that provided Hudson Falls (10-2) with its only first down of the half. By contrast, the Tigers, behind a heavy does of McMurray, scored 54 points in last week's win over Beekmantown.
"We knew they wanted to go to that one back," Ramalho said. "They were used to it, and trying to get away from that is hard. That's why we had such a great game."
Even with the fake punt, Rye's defense was more than strong enough to regain possession with 1:29 to play before the half. The offense then drove 50 yards, capping the march with a 29-yard touchdown run by Cole McCormack.
McCormack, a junior, had just 12 carries but rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns to earn offensive MVP honors. Ramalho also had two rushing touchdowns, and Connor Eck threw a 13-yard touchdown to Matt Foristel.
"It was a great effort all the way around," McCormack said. "Everyone stood up and did what we needed them to do."
No unit more so than the defense, led by Ramalho and defensive MVP William Ramsey, which held Hudson Falls to 118 total yards, 74 of which came against second-teamers on the final drive.
"I think that is the best defensive effort I've seen from this team, this year and all the way back to 2005," Ramalho said.
"I'm pinching myself all the time because these are such great kids," Garr said. "I hope it never comes to an end, but we also know we're going to appreciate what we have right now."