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Starting a seven-game season 0-3 is not an ideal way to begin a march to the playoffs.
But that didn’t matter to Rye, which blanked visiting Lakeland, 20-0, on Friday night to clinch its 18th straight sectional playoff appearance. The Garnets (4-3), who started the year in an 0-3 hole, closed out the regular season with four straight wins to earn a spot in the Section 1 Class A tournament.
“They never gave up, they believed in themselves,” Rye coach Dino Garr said. “We’ve been in the playoffs for the last four games, we had to win them all and it just shows a lot of true grit and the character of this team.”
Rye took advantage of good field position early and scored on a 2-yard run from senior tailback Jake Meyerson just four minutes into the game for a 6-0 lead.
Meyerson began the year as the starting quarterback but accepted a position change in order to take better advantage of his skill set.
Taking over at quarterback was freshman Andrew Livingston, who showcased a powerful arm and finished 6 of 12 for 93 yards and captained a dominating Rye offensive attack.
On the last play of the first quarter, Rye’s James Dugan bulldozed his way through the Lakeland defensive line and then turned on the speed to go 71 yards for the score. Livingston connected with captain Dylan Lynch on the 2-point conversion to run the score to 14-0.
Lakeland (4-3) couldn’t muster any offense against a Rye defensive line that had a clear size advantage. Linemen Patrick Powers and Will Croughan stood out on offense and defense as they stuffed Lakeland's running game and opened up holes for their own backs.
But the Hornets still had their moments. Down 14-0 in the third quarter, Tony LaGuerre intercepted a pass on the goal line and returned it to midfield. Lakeland drove into the red zone and it looked like momentum might swing in its favor. Unfortunately, on third-and-8 from the 19, an unexpected snap sailed through the backfield and bounced nearly to midfield for a 26-yard loss and another Lakeland punt.
Rye’s determination to run the ball wore down Lakeland's defense as the game went on. Bruising fullback Joe Simolacaj anchored the second-half rushing attack and punched in the game’s final score with five minutes to go.
“Lakeland had eight or nine people in the box,” Simolacaj said. “(The o-line) played great and protected me as best they could and they had a great game.”
So what’s the reward for four straight wins and a playoff berth? Well, depending on Saturday’s results, Rye gets to hit the road next week against either Poughkeepsie or Pearl River.
“We don’t know who it’s going to be,” said Garr. “That’s the whole thing, everybody can knock off everybody. I’m just proud of our kids and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”