MAHOPAC – Westlake needed the better part of two quarters to wrestle momentum away.
Pleasantville only needed one play to steal it back.
A blocked punt by Thomas Browne was exactly what the Panthers needed after letting a lead get away. He won footrace to the ball and set Pleasantville with a critical first-and-goal in a tie game.
It wasn’t like the game was lacking drama.
Three plays later, Jack Howe delivered a nine-yard scoring pass to Brian Reda to get Pleasantville back on top. It was by far the biggest sequence of a 28-21 victory over the Wildcats in the Section 1 Class B Championship game Saturday at Mahopac High School.
It was the first title for the Panthers since 2013.
“Really, this is unbelievable,” Pleasantville quarterback Jack Howe said. “They definitely had some momentum going into halftime. We just did whatever we could to stay in the game, then we pulled it out.”
The undefeated Panthers (10-0) could not have started any better.
It was a 14-0 lead after Declan McDermott won a 22-yard race to the pylon and Howe found Jack Minerva on a 22-yard toss into the end zone.
Westlake quarterback Rob DiNota got his team back in the game when he connected with Haseeb Ashar on an eight-yard slant for a touchdown with 21 seconds left in the opening half. DiNota went down the left sideline for a 56-yard TD run three minute after the intermission.
Suddenly, the score was knotted and the Wildcats seemed to be in control.
Pleasantville went three-and-out, but the defense came on and put Westlake in neutral, forcing the DiNota punt.
Browne promptly changed the game.
“I took a step to the side, swam past the guard, put my hand up and the ball hit me right in the forearm,” he said. “DiNota was running with me. He was trying to beat me to the ball, so I was pushing and shoving. I knew if we got that ball, that was going to help us win this game and it did. We got it. That was the highlight of my season.”
Howe missed the PAT, but the Panthers managed to come up with a fourth-down stop at their own 36 to keep Westlake (8-2) from answering. McDermott then capped a 12-play drive with a four-yard run. Howe threw for two points to make it a 28-14 lead with 7:17 to go in the game.
Pleasantville next plays in the state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Dietz Stadium against Section 9 champ New Paltz.
Player of the game: Ian Esliker was the defensive standout for Pleasantville, helping to set a tone and keeping the Wildcats from getting a first down until three minutes were gone in the second quarter.
Turning point: Seriously? It has to be the blocked punt. Westlake coach John Castellano was having DiNota quick-kick the entire game because protection on punts has been an issue for his team.
“We’ve tried every which way but loose,” he said. “And we were having success with that quick-kick stuff. It was just a matter of time. I probably shouldn’t have called it there. I probably should’ve taken my chances on a regular punt.”
Stat line: DiNota ran for 177 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He also scored on a 20-yard run with 3:49 to play. … Howe completed 10 of 20 passes for 102 yards and two TDs.
Quotable: “I think Westlake underestimated our offense,” Esliker said. “And our unity as a team.”