Mike Pileggi spent parts of last season on the junior varsity team.
Friday night, he was front and center on a Rutland High School varsity football team that kicked off the season with a 17-14 victory at South Burlington.
“I was a junior fighting to be on varsity and playing JV,” the soft-spoken Pileggi said. “I got my chance at BFA and proved it there, and I’ve just been working as hard as I can.”
Pileggi churned out 107 yards and an early touchdown, classmate Tyler Guth erupted for a 35-yard touchdown dash in the third quarter, and the Raiders held off an opponent that defeated them 46-13 in the season opener a year ago.
“All the credit goes to Mike Pileggi and all those kids who made plays tonight that you might not know much about,” Rutland coach Mike Norman said. “They are seniors and are seizing the moment.”
Pileggi staked Rutland to a 7-0 lead with a 21-yard touchdown rush in the first quarter and senior Scott Crosby drilled a 23-yard field goal to create a 10-7 advantage 12 seconds before halftime.
Against a South Burlington team that gained huge chunks of yardage through the air, Pileggi and Rutland slowed the tempo during a ground assault in the second half.
“You like running the football because it just makes everything else a little simpler,” Norman said. “We were able to do that I little better in the second half.”
Guth’s long touchdown run pushed Rutland’s lead to 17-7 in the third quarter.
South Burlington junior quarterback Hunter Riehle racked up 278 passing yards, connecting with Cam Nolting and Tanner Contois for long touchdowns. He engineered an impressive drive through the air in the fourth quarter, capped with a 16-yard strike to Contois (10 catches for 91 yards) to cut the Rebels’ deficit to 17-14 with a little less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
However, Pileggi and quarterback Nick Boles (8-for-16, 79 yards) helped Rutland collect a clinching first down on the Raiders’ final possession.
South Burlington, which graduated all-star running back Connor DeVarney, finished with very few yards on the ground against Rutland.
“We got outplayed tonight,” South Burlington coach Joe McDonald said. “They executed and we did not. That’s what it boils down to.
“We need to be able to stop the running attack better and we need to execute on offense better,” McDonald said, “but it’s early in the season and I’m confident we’ll get better.”