RYE — After spending the last six weeks on the outside looking in, Dino Garr is breathing easier.
Of course, that won't last.
Rye wrapped up a playoff bid with a 20-0 win over Lakeland on Friday so there is work to be done. It was the fourth win in a row for the Garnets, who found a way to overcome a startling 0-3 start.
"We're in," said Garr, who has to wait until Sunday before everything is official. "It's been a hell of a comeback, and I'm real proud of these guys."
Rye's playoff aspirations were on life support three weeks into the season. Losses against John Jay and Ossining forced the Garnets to employ a win-or-go-home approach long before the leaves began to fall.
And the Garnets responded.
First came a 26-7 statement at Greeley, then a 34-0 win over Roosevelt. Beating rival Harrison 17-7 last week got the record back to .500.
"I can't explain what everyone's feeling," said Jake Meyerson, who had 73 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries. "We didn't start well, but turned things around. Hopefully, we continue playing the way that we have been playing."
The urgency was apparent from the first snap, and Rye forced a quick three-and-out. Meyerson bounced right and set the Garnets up with a first-and-goal on their opening possession. He was in the end zone three plays later, but missed the PAT.
The Hornets couldn't gain any traction offensively until late in the half.
"It was the first thing we talked about before the game," Meyerson said. "We really wanted to come out and run the ball down their throats."
James Dugan extended the Rye lead in the final seconds of the first quarter when he came around the left end, shifted gears and won a footrace down the sideline. Andrew Livingston hit Dylan Lynch to make it 14-0.
It stayed that way until the fourth quarter.
Lakeland (4-3) was inching along after Tony LaGuerre intercepted a Livingston pass in the end zone, and the Wildcat offense moved the ball into the red zone. Then, an early snap on the last play of the third quarter went over the head of quarterback Brian Prunty on third-and-seven from the Garnets 18.
It resulted in a 26-yard loss.
"The running game was going," Lakeland halfback Dan Eremita said. "We started pounding the ball, but our mistakes got us."
After the Hornets punted the ball away, Rye sealed its fate.
Joe Simolacaj and Meyerson found holes and kept the clock moving. Livingston hit Andrew Hudson with a big third-down pass to keep the drive alive. Simolacaj went spinning into the end zone from 12 yards out with 5:33 left in the game to apply the exclamation point.
He bounced north, south, east and west along the way.
"I really didn't know what I was doing in the moment," said Simolacaj, who had 73 yards on 15 carries. "I was kind of just feeling my way along, not giving up on the play and trucking along. ... We never gave up on the season. We got the wins one by one and now we're in the playoffs."