The Rye game plan wasn’t designed in this particular way. It just sort of happened.
With the score at Harrison tied at halftime on Saturday, Rye’s linemen told their coaches what the defense was reading and keying, and coach Dino Garr knew just how to counter it.
Give it to No. 33.
That was Joe Simolacaj, who put the Garnets on his back in the second half and carried them to a thrilling 17-7 victory. It marked Rye's ninth straight win in Section 1’s premier rivalry.
Simolacaj carried the football an astounding 27 times in the second half alone, gaining 116 yards and shouldering the load on both Rye scoring drives in the fourth quarter — an 11-yard touchdown pass from freshman Andrew Livingston to Dylan Lynch and a 35-yard Jake Meyerson field goal.
“He was running over kids,” Meyerson said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
On the day, Simolacaj carried the ball 34 times for 135 yards. Meyerson did most of the damage in the first half and finished with 16 carries for 103 yards.
Both of Rye’s touchdowns came on Livingston-to-Lynch connections. The first came in the second quarter with the game still scoreless, as Livingston rolled out and found Lynch wide open for a 3-yard score.
"I've been playing quarterback my whole life and I just went out there and executed," said Livingston, who was starting just his fourth varsity game. "I didn't think about much and just played football."
Harrison (3-3) then responded with a 65-yard scoring drive punctuated by a Jake Marino 19-yard touchdown run.
But Rye (3-3) completely dominated the second half. It ran 35 plays compared to just 16 for Harrison. The Garnets outgained them 163-49 and limited Harrison to just one first down.
“We didn’t make mistakes. We didn’t give up big plays,” Garr said. “Great players make plays. And our kids just made the plays.”
Harrison simply didn’t. Facing a fourth-and-1 at their 44, the Huskies opted to go for it, but Vinnie Nicita’s keeper attempt was stopped at the line. Rye gave the ball to Simolacaj on seven straight plays, setting up an 11-yard Lynch touchdown grab to make it 14-7.
On the ensuing possession, Meyerson intercepted a pass at midfield for Rye.
“I didn’t know what was going through my mind,” Meyerson said with a wide grin. “I saw the guy running a seam route and I flew in front of him. I caught it. Words can’t describe it.”
Five straight Simolacaj carries got Rye to the Harrison 25, leading to Meyerson’s game-clinching field goal.
The celebration was a wild one for the underdog Garnets, who are making a habit of dramatic wins over Harrison. Last year, they won 22-21 on a touchdown drive and 2-point conversion in the closing seconds.
Most importantly, Rye won for the its straight time after an 0-3 start. The win essentially saves their season and keeps them in the playoff hunt in Class A. A win over Lakeland in next week’s season finale would all but clinch a berth.
“The team is just getting better,” Garr said. “Look at the three teams we played. They’re good football teams. Class A is that way. Harrison will probably come back next week and beat up on somebody.”