The Arlington football team huddled, helmets raised, as their head coach spoke.
“We’re a family,” Mike Morano told his players. “Nothing gets in the way, nothing stops us. We’re going to rally and we’re going keep going.”
The head coach said this about five minutes after a kneel-down concluded the Admirals’ 35-6 victory over Mount Vernon High School in a playoff qualifier on Friday. But it was also said about an hour after Arlington suffered its toughest loss — what was immediately suspected and later confirmed to be a season-ending injury for starting quarterback Austin Heck.
When the top seed in the Section 1 Class AA playoffs gets back on the field for the quarterfinals next Friday, they’ll do so with a backup under center, Zac Dingee. But, the Admirals say, they continue to move forward with confidence, and their playbook intact.
“There’s no nervousness,” right tackle Jordan Valerius said. “We have all the confidence in Zac.”
Heck, a senior, was tackled awkwardly on a run inside the 5 with just over a minute left in the first half. He fractured two bones in his right leg and was rushed by ambulance to Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie as the game resumed.
He waved to the home crowd as he was carried off the field on a stretcher, and the Arlington fans roared. Still, the tension was palpable and the sight of their signal-caller writhing had cast a pall over the spectators, and teammates.
“That’s our brother and it was sad to see,” said Dingee, who traveled with the team to visit Heck in the hospital Friday night.
Heck was enjoying what had the makings of a career game. In less than two quarters, he ran for 103 yards, including a 54-yard score, and threw a 36-yard touchdown. And Arlington, as it has all season, was rolling.
“The breaks he sustained were clean and they were able to set them,” Morano said. “The doctors said he’ll need about five to six weeks of recovery. It hurts that this is how it ends for him, especially as a senior. But physically, this was the best prognosis he could’ve gotten.”
Heck took to social media from his hospital bed, tweeting congratulations to teammates and thanks to well-wishers. He appeared to be in good spirits.
And, as it must, the team moves on.
Top-seeded Arlington (7-0) hosts No. 8 North Rockland at 6 p.m. Friday in the sectional quarterfinals. And the following weeks, should the Admirals advance, will get more difficult.
Tailback Ricardo Yolas and the Admirals defense have grabbed attention this season. But Heck was the offensive maestro — a vocal leader, the sage, and a playmaker with a good arm and quick feet. He might not have been Arlington’s best player, but he was among the most valuable. Teammates said the remainder of this season is dedicated to him.
Dingee started at quarterback in junior varsity his freshman and sophomore seasons, and competed this summer with Heck for the starting gig. He has played safety and wide receiver this season, but he does have a grasp of the offense and the position certainly isn’t foreign. He said he was “comfortable” being back under center.
Morano insisted the playbook won’t change much going forward. Dingee has a solid arm — he demonstrated that on a throw to a deep post route in the third — and the athleticism to be a dual threat. But much more is required of the position, of course. Poise, accuracy and decision-making are paramount.
And Morano, in his first year as a head coach, will face his first tall hurdles in the coming weeks:
Getting a new quarterback acclimated, adjusting game plans to suit his abilities, helping Dingee build a quick rapport with his line and receivers. All while under the pressure of being the undefeated No. 1 seed with the target on its back.
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4