By Mike Zummo
The Goshen Gladiators had taken a four-point lead with about nine minutes to go, but Wallkill quarterback Mat Shea was ready for his moment.
There was no doubt in his mind that the Panthers would come right back and score.
“I’ve been working for this for a long time, and that’s the situation where I belong,” Shea said. “I really wasn’t too fazed. I was focused and I knew what was going to happen.”
So, what happened?
Shea hit Jack Rauschenbach for a 29-yard touchdown pass and the defense held as the Panthers opened their Section 9 Class A schedule with a 28-24 win on Friday night at Robinson Field.
“I thought that’s a tremendous football game,” Wallkill coach Brian Vegliando said. “Our backs were against the wall in a couple different situations on all sides of the ball: offense defense and special teams. Guys responded and I’m really so proud of the way they responded in the face of adversity. Things were tough and they had to make a play.”
With the Gladiators leading 24-20 with 8:59 remaining in the game, the Panthers took over on their own 46-yard line. On second down, Shea hit Ty Crowley for a 30-yard pass. After a 16-yard pass to Jeremy Figueroa that was called back, Shea responded with the touchdown throw to Rauschenbach.
“They’re my best friends, every single one of them,” Shea said. “They’re competitors and they’re playmakers.”
Then for the remaining six minutes, the game was in the hands of the Wallkill defense.
The Panthers got hit with two face-mask penalties, giving the Gladiators 20 extra yards but they held firm when they needed to as Miguel Lopez knocked down a fourth-down pass, giving the Panthers the football with 3:51 left in the game.
“We were looking forward to Goshen (all week) and prepping for them,” Vegliando said. “I think the guys responded to that and made tremendous plays on defense.”
From there, the game went into the hands of the Panthers running game as Shea teamed up with Chase Hermance to run out the clock for the win.
“He did exactly what we needed,” Shea said. “It was huge.”
The Panthers play in a four-team division with Beacon, Goshen and Saugerties, and the Panthers will head for a non-league game next week before returning to league play on Oct. 8 against Beacon.
It’s the Panthers’ best start in some time.
“We’re so excited about this game, the way we’re playing and where we’re headed as a team in the program,” Vegliando said. “We couldn’t be happier right now in this moment.”