NEW ROCHELLE – The football offseason is so long that even state semifinalist New Rochelle hadn’t played a game in more than nine months, which gave Romeo Holden ample time to imagine how his season would start. In mere seconds Saturday, the junior’s dream became a reality.
Holden returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown to jump-start what would be a 34-13 season-opening victory over North Rockland.
“I did,” Holden said. “Every day I thought about starting a game off great like that.”
Holden received the kick at the 9 and burst through the initial hole to find a wave of blockers in front of him. He scored nearly untouched.
“That was a great way to start the season,” junior quarterback Keion Hiland-Jones said. “It gave Section 1 a rude awakening to how we’re going to play all year.”
The touchdown was one of two for Holden, who had two more called back for blocking penalties as well. Still, North Rockland eventually regrouped against the defending Class AA champ. A muffed punt return set up one touchdown and junior Dylan Senatore found some holes in the Huguenots’ pass defense.
New Rochelle led just 21-13 at halftime, but its pass rush ramped up in the second half. Junior Lloyd King brought pressure to force a quick throw on a screen pass that was intercepted by sophomore defensive end Khairi Manns.
Manns, the younger brother of former star linebacker Bubby Manns, also caught one of two touchdown passes from Hiland-Jones. Holden caught the other.
“There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of changes we need to make, but we’ll clean things up for next week,” Hiland-Jones said.
Player of the game: Romeo Holden, New Rochelle. In addition to his touchdown on the opening kickoff, Holden rushed for a game-high 72 yards on just seven carries and caught two passes for 27 yards and a touchdown.
Stat line: New Rochelle (1-0) — Jared Baron had 11 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown and had a sack. Nashiem Hiland atoned for a first-half fumble by scoring the game’s final touchdown when he broke two tackles en route to the end zone. … Hiland-Jones split time with junior Jonathan Saddler and finished 6 for 15 for 77 yards and the two scores. North Rockland (0-1) — Senatore went 8 for 19 for 135 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a score. … Bradley Garland caught two passes for 68 yards and Jayden Cook, a sophomore, caught a touchdown by outjumping a New Rochelle defender in the end zone.
Quotable: “I’m really excited by what we have,” North Rockland coach Tom Lynch said. “Offensively, we moved the ball in the first half; we just have to get more consistent. Defensively, we were on the field the whole second half. I think our kids played hard, but they got worn down.”