By RICK REMSNYDER
For the first three quarters of Marlboro’s battle versus local gridiron rival Wallkill on Friday night, the host Dukes were becoming increasingly frustrated.
Right off the bat, starting quarterback Dylan O’Banks was stopped one yard short of a touchdown on the opening drive of the cool night.
Then the Dukes couldn’t capitalize on Matt Drake’s interception of Wallkill quarterback Mat Shea when Sam Lofaro’s 48-yard field goal attempt came up short on their second possession.
Things started looking serious when Wallkill took a 7-0 lead on Shea’s 4-yard TD pass to wide receiver Jeremy Figueroa on the last play of the first quarter.
Marlboro then lost one of its most lethal offensive weapons when senior wide receiver Chin Okasi fell on his shoulder trying to make an acrobatic catch in the Panthers’ end zone late in the second quarter. He spent the rest of the night on the sidelines with his shoulder wrapped in a bandage.
A couple of plays later, O’Banks’ 12-yard TD run was wiped out by a holding penalty and Marlboro trailed 7-0 at the half.
The large Wallkill crowd gave its team a rousing ovation as it left the Dennis Burkett Field thinking the 20-minute trip to Marlboro might end with a victory.
So what did Marlboro coach Ryan Brooks say to his team at the half?
“On the opening drive, we got stopped on four plays at the 1-yard line,” Brooks said. “I told them that Wallkill is a physical football team and they really took it to us. I told our guys that they had to toughen up and play with a lot of heart.”
The message must have gotten through loud and clear as the Dukes rallied for 14 fourth-quarter points to pull out a thrilling 14-7 Section 9 non-league win. Marlboro improved to 3-1, while Wallkill dropped to 3-2.
Although the Dukes piled up penalties at an alarming rate with 11 flags for 97 yards, the defense came up big in keeping Wallkill out of the end zone for the final three quarters.
Shea, one of the top passers in Section 9, was intercepted four times. In addition to Drake’s first-half interception, Lofaro had two picks and Collin Casey had one.
Lofaro’s first theft came on the last play of the third quarter and the Dukes took over at their 42-yard line.
On the second play of the drive, O’Banks hit Casey with a short pass over the middle and he turned it into a 50-yard touchdown sprint to tie it at 7-7.
The heroics were just beginning for Casey, who shifted from quarterback to wide receiver after O’Banks came off the bench to throw four TD passes in a 34-0 win over New Paltz in the second game of the season.
O’Banks also took all the snaps in last week’s 14-12 loss to Port Jervis.
Though O’Banks completed 19 of 35 passes for 175 yards against the Panthers, Brooks decided to bring Casey in as quarterback when the Dukes started their final drive on their 33-yard line with 2:34 left.
“It’s a luxury to have two quarterbacks,” Brooks said. “They’re both dynamic. They can run and pass. I just think they were prepared for Dylan. And Collin gave us a different element that maybe they weren’t ready for.
I know Collin’s a good runner and that’s exactly what he did. He got a lot of tough runs for us on that last drive.”
Brooks’ move paid immediate dividends when Casey gained 25 yards on a keeper on the first play of the drive. Only a shoestring tackle by a Wallkill defender kept him from going all the way.
Four plays later on fourth-and-2, Casey rolled to his right and hit junior wide receiver Drew Heimink with a 30-yard touchdown pass to put the Dukes up 14-7 with 24.6 seconds left.
Lofaro sealed the victory with his second interception of the game.
Linebacker Kevin DeSantis led Marlboro’s defense with six tackles.
The Dukes’ defense limited Shea to 132 yards passing. The Wallkill quarterback totaled just 38 yards passing in the second half and was picked off three times in the final two quarters.
Wallkill coach Brian Vegliando admitted it was a rare off night for his star signal-caller.
“They covered things up and made some good plays on balls,” Vegliando said of Marlboro’s defense. “You throw the ball and it happens.”
Though disappointed with the loss, Vegliando said his team (1-0 Class A) must shift its focus to league foe Beacon. The Panthers travel to Beacon Friday night.
“This (Marlboro game) is a local rivalry and a lot of our guys know their guys so it stinks to lose,” he said. “But we’ll learn from this and in the grand scheme of things we’re 1-0 in our division. We have to turn our attention to that tomorrow and get ready.”
Marlboro returns to Class B action with a trip to Rondout Valley on Friday.