THIELLS – When Jayden Cook returned after a year at St. Joe’s in Montvale, North Rockland knew it meant the addition of a game-changer. The Red Raiders had been sorry to see him leave, and Cook proved Saturday why they were so elated to have him back.
The sophomore snared a key interception in the end zone and then wrestled away a jump ball to catch the winning touchdown as No. 8 North Rockland beat No. 9 Clarkstown North 21-14 in a Class AA qualifying round game.
“He’s a man,” coach Tom Lynch said. “He looks it, and somehow he’s only a sophomore. He somehow comes up with those balls.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Cook made a diving interception in the end zone during the third quarter to stop a promising Clarkstown North drive. North Rockland still led just 14-7 late in the fourth quarter when it faced fourth-and-15 from the 21. Quarterback Jeff Abrams heaved a pass toward the left pylon in the back of the end zone and Cook snatched it from over the head of a defender.
“Me and St. Joseph’s didn’t really work out, so I wanted to come back home and play with these guys right here,” Cook said. “I’m very happy.”
That elation nearly turned to regret for North Rockland after Jake Katz drove Clarkstown North 80 yards and connected with Brian Fuller to make it a one-score game. The Rams had one last chance when Chris Marchena intercepted Abrams near midfield with 1:12 to play, but the ensuing drive went backwards thanks to sacks by Damien Colon and Hervens Mulatre.
It was North Rockland’s second win over Clarkstown North in a week. The Red Raiders needed overtime, winning 35-34 on the final day of the regular season.
Player of the game: Jayden Cook, North Rockland. The St. Joe’s transfer had a modest four catches for 41 yards, but even his winning touchdown wasn’t what left the most lasting impression.
“The interception is the one that impressed me the most,” Lynch said. “That saved us.”
Stat line:North Rockland (4-3) — Making his first start, Abrams went 14 for 26 for 162 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Bradley Garland has a team-high seven catches for 84 yards. … Lamar Seward rushed for a 39-yard touchdown to give the Red Raiders a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Clarkstown North (4-3) — Michael Piscani had 17 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown and Katz went 7 for 19 for 108 yards and was intercepted three times. … Leading rushing Eric Maurer (concussion) did not play.
Quotable: “When I caught the ball, I didn’t know what to do,” said the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Mulatre, a senior tackle who intercepted a screen pass in the first half. “I started running toward the sideline. There was nobody blocking. I wanted to score, but I couldn’t. I was still very happy I got the interception.”