By RICK REMSNYDER
Wallkill junior Mat Shea had the kind of performance high school quarterbacks dream about on a rare Monday afternoon contest versus Warwick. Shea shredded the visiting Wildcats’ defense for 331 yards and four touchdowns as baffled Warwick defensive backs were usually a step behind.
But ultimately untimely mistakes and defensive breakdowns were too much for Wallkill to overcome in a 38-29 Section 9 Class A loss that dropped the Panthers’ league and overall record to 0-2 on April 5.
“Our team has a lot of heart and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Wallkill coach Brian Vegliando said. “But we made too many mistakes to win this game. When things got in crunch time, we gave them too many big plays.”
Warwick (2-1 overall, 1-1 Class A) led 18-14 at the half. The Wildcats then seemed to be in control when they lengthened their lead to 25-14 on Nick DiMarco’s tackle-breaking 9-yard touchdown run with 10:39 left in the game.
Shea had other ideas, however. He had already picked apart Warwick’s secondary with short TD passes in the first half to wide receivers Brandon Sweeney (8 yards) and Ty Crowley (6 yards).
This time, Shea went deep down the right sideline to junior wide out Jack Rauschenbach, who made a sensational one-handed catch over his right shoulder for a 74-yard scoring connection. The Panthers added a two-point conversion on Shea’s pass to Brian Cross to cut the deficit to 25-22 with 9:32 remaining.
“He ran a fly on the outside and it was a beautiful play by Jack,” Shea said. “And it was a great play call by the coaches.”
Rauschenbach said Shea’s throw was right on the money.
“I just knew Mat was going to put it where I wanted it,” he said. “The wind made it drift a bit and I just put my hand up and brought it in.”
Cross then recovered a Warwick fumble at midfield to give the Panthers a chance with the final quarter winding down.
The Panthers turned to battering ram running back Devin Martucci (12 carries for a team-high 67 yards) to start the drive. He bulldozed up the middle for 24 yards on three carries to set up Wallkill at the Warwick 26-yard line.
Two plays later, Shea hooked up with a 26-yard TD toss to Rauschenbach again to put the Panthers’ ahead 28-25. Jayden Torres’ PAT upped the lead to 29-25 with 3:28 left.
It was the second time Rauschenbach had two touchdown receptions in a game. He did it last year against Monticello.
Rauschenbach thinks he and Shea are just beginning to click as a lethal pass-catch combination.
“I do believe the chemistry is building considering I’ve never had him as my quarterback before,” he said. “We have been friends for a while so there was
preexisting chemistry. But this season is just helping that grow even more.”
Wallkill’s lead lasted only 14 seconds, though.
Warwick’s Logan Hurd took a lateral from a teammate on the ensuing kickoff and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown and a 31-29 lead with 3:14 remaining.
Hurd then capitalized on one of Shea’s few errant throws, picking off a pass in the flat and returning it for a 15-yard TD to clinch a 38-29 win for the Wildcats.
Shea nearly put another score on the board in the final minute by completing a 57-yard bomb to Crowley, who was barely tripped up inside the Warwick 5-yard line by a lunging defender. Martucci fumbled it away on the next play to end any thoughts of a Wallkill comeback.
Although the loss stung, Shea thought there were a lot of positives for the Panthers to build on.
“Our receivers played great and did a nice job of finding open grass,” he said. “Our play calling from the coaches was also great.”
Shea completed 18 of 27 passes. His leading receivers were Crowley (10 for 132 yards, 1 TD), Rauschenbach (2-100, 2 TDs) and Jeremy Figueroa (2-72).
“Warwick is a very physical football team,” Vegliando said. “I thought our guys battled back and showed a lot of resilience. It seems like we seized momentum, but we gave it right back to them with that kickoff return.”
Wallkill dropped to 0-3 four days later with a 34-13 loss on April 9 at Goshen. The Panthers’ final game is a non-leaguer against Valley Central at 7 p.m. on April 16.