Halfway across the world at a family wedding in Bali, Dino Garr was insulated from all the noise. It was an almost unheard of in-season weekend off for the Rye football coach, but he had left his assistants strict orders.
His Garnets had a non-league game against Scarsdale in their regular-season finale. It wouldn’t count toward playoff qualification or seeding. The winner earned pride, nothing more, and Garr’s strategy could not have been more clear.
“Before I left, I told the guys to go after it and see as much as you can in the first half,” said Garr, who wanted the starters pulled at halftime. “The coaches did everything absolutely correct. As the head coach, they did everything I asked them to do.”
With its starters on the bench for most of the second half, Rye squandered a 24-point halftime lead and eventually lost in overtime. The defeat cost the Garnets (8-1) their unblemished record and caused some unrest in the Rye community, yet Garr returned from his Indian Ocean retreat satisfied his team remained intact.
After injuries derailed the Garnets’ pursuit of a Section 1 title last November, the coaching staff has been committed to keeping players fresh.
“Would we have liked to have won that game? Absolutely,” Garr said. “Did we want to risk our season because of that game? Absolutely not.”
Rye’s commitment to staying healthy has hardly been lip service. Senior captains Tim DeGraw, Jimmy Timmings and Roger Paganelli have been almost exclusively one-way players on offense this season. Meanwhile, the Garnets have started or played most of their six sophomores regularly on defense.
The result has been a steep learning curve with some hard lessons — 47 points allowed to Panas, 38 to Scarsdale — but Rye enters Saturday night’s Class A final against Yorktown in one piece.
“We knew we had the team to get back to this point,” said Timmings, a lineman who missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL. “I think we knew we weren’t 100 percent last year, so we knew we needed to be healthier.”
The lightened workload has allowed key players to play more snaps on defense in the playoffs. Timmings, Paganelli and junior Patrick Hull — three starting offensive linemen — all rotated in on defense the last two weeks, especially in the semifinal against Somers.
The speedy DeGraw, who started at cornerback as a freshman and sophomore, stepped on the field in passing situations. He intercepted a pass and nearly returned it for a touchdown just before the half of the Garnets’ 21-19 victory.
“The defensive load when we played Somers was very demanding,” said DeGraw, a record-setting receiver who also returns kicks. “It’s nice to be able to rely on experienced kids like Roger and Jimmy. I think all of us would say the same thing. We trust our coaches. We think what they have in mind is right.”
Garr said the increased competition in Class A has forced him to rely on fewer two-way starters.
Last year, Rye’s rash of injuries was exacerbated by a grueling 8-2 win over rival Harrison the final week of the regular season. Conor Murphy was lost for the season, and fellow senior captain Chris Santangelo was injured and never returned to form. Both were two-way starters.
“The game didn’t mean that much other than community pride, and we lost two quality kids,” Garr said. “That really kind of set us back going into the playoffs.”
This season’s team appears to have improved each week. It required a different approach for the notoriously aggressive Garr, but his program enters Saturday with a chance to win its first Section 1 title since taking six straight from 2003-08.
“We haven’t won a title in Class A yet,” Timmings said. “I know everyone in our program wants to do that, so why not preserve us? This championship would mean so much.”
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