ri Oct 15, 2010 12:00 AM
Harrison's Troilo ups the stakes vs. Rye
Josh Thomson firstname.lastname@example.org
Art Troilo has coached too many of these games and seen too many others to spend a minute labeling one team a favorite over the other. Through 81 years of a 79-game series, his Harrison Huskies lead Rye 41-35-3, but that has hardly been the case in the last decade. The Garnets won eight of 11 meetings in the 2000s, including the last seven straight.
Harrison football coach Art Troilo Jr. works with players during practice.
Against that backdrop, Troilo's 5-0 Huskies enter Saturday's 2 p.m. meeting with perhaps their best team since 2006. But with pressure closing in and the intensity of the rivalry burning as hot as ever, not only does the coach not consider his team the favorite to win, he considers this game the ultimate measure of him and his team.
"This is the most important game I've ever coached," said Troilo, whose teams won Class B state titles in 1999 and 2002. "State games. League games. Playoff games. This is the most important. That's the way I feel."
No doubt the last three years left Troilo in that mind-set. His team lost by a combined score of 76-17, allowing three straight 100-yard rushing games and falling prey to an overpowering effort from Rye's linemen.
"I thought definitely the last five years they were more physical up front," Troilo said. "I think that was the major difference."
A key difference-maker the last two seasons was Rye quarterback Connor Eck, who started under center in 21-7 and 28-3 Garnets victories. Eck enters this year as "The Game's" marquee player, but his status remained a mystery as late as Thursday night.
The senior cut his hand on glass a week ago Monday. He had 10 stitches removed on Wednesday afternoon and attempted to throw for the first time Thursday.
Eck said Wednesday night that he expected to play. The question is whether he plays quarterback or somewhere else on the field, which is something that could only add intrigue to the most hyped game of the Section 1 season to date.
"There's a chance," Eck said coyly.
Even if he starts at quarterback, Eck doesn't consider his team the favorite despite Rye, 4-1 this year, riding its longest winning streak ever against Harrison.
"They're undefeated and we're not," Eck said. "Obviously right now you have to consider them the better team. We still have to prove ourselves."
Eck's backup, junior Jake Meyerson, has proved himself in relief, leading Rye to wins over Spring Valley and Eastchester in Eck's absence. But the maturation of the Garnets' line may be equally important.
Rye returned just one starter, Anthony Vitiello, from a year ago, and it lost fellow senior Matt McReddie for the season to a knee injury. Both inexperience and other injuries plagued the line's performance, particularly in a 28-7 loss to Nyack.
"After the Nyack game there were a lot of questions we had to answer," Garnets coach Dino Garr said. "I think the players have responded tremendously."
Harrison will have to overcome Rye's improved line to secure several things on its wish list: a perfect 6-0 record, a League A-South championship and top playoff seed, and, most important, the end to Rye's reign.
Last week, Harrison appeared ready to explode. Seniors Duke Alvora and Michael Callari (suspensions), and Alex Acompora and Brandon Bonistall (ankle injuries) played together for the first time all season. But the Huskies needed a pair of late touchdowns to rally for a victory against 1-3 Spring Valley.
The outcome seemed to slow Harrison's momentum in advance of the Rye game, but senior Steve Ricciardi considered it an eye-opener, nothing more.
"It was a wake-up call," he said. "People will say we were looking past the game, but Spring Valley is a decent team. If you take a play off, they will capitalize on it. And we know we can't do that against Rye."
After the last seven games, if Harrison can say one thing for certain, it may be that, whether the Huskies are favored or not.