With 1:20 left on the clock and Briarcliff/Hamilton on the Edgemont/Keio 3-yard line in a 22-all game, Edgemont coach Brendan Connolly made the easiest call of his coaching career. “Let them score,” he told his defense.
His stunned Panthers did as they were instructed, pretending to play some defense, but allowing Briarcliff in for a TD.
“We practice that, we work on the two-minute, 1:50 on the clock, down, one timeout and we need to score,” Connolly said. “We practice that scenario with hurry-up, spiking balls, clock plays, all that to make sure that if that situation ever arises it works. Our kids look at us like we’re crazy when we practice it because we never do it in games, but today we used it.”
The team listened, knowing they’d need time on the clock. “Coach pulled us over and said, ‘Act like you’re going to tackle them and just let them score,’” junior quarterback Kirk Gialleonardo said. “We knew our offense, being stronger than our defense, if we let them in we’d stop the two-point conversion and go down and score the winning touchdown.”
After the two-point conversion was no good — as key a play as any in the game — and with the score 28-22, junior Ryan Gordon took the kickoff to the 41-yard line. A couple of plays later, a pass from quarterback Kirk Gialleonardo to Gordon brought the Panthers to the Briarcliff 8-yard line with 22.9 seconds left. Gialleonardo scored on a keeper to tie the game with 19.4 seconds left.
Gordon was elated to have that big catch from Gialleonardo in the closing seconds of the game to put the team inside the 10.
“There was a moment in this game where — and it was the same thing last year — I had a play that messed up our team and put us on the backburner, but I’m just glad I got the chance in this game to help us regain the lead,” Gordon said. “I couldn’t have done it without my brothers.”
Davis Kim, a freshman, stepped up and kicked the extra point to give Edgemont, which had led 14-0 initially, the lead back once again at 29-28.
“That was a little nerve-wracking to be perfectly honest, but it was great,” Gialleonardo said. “The freshmen have really stepped up this year: Davis Kim, my brother Milan, the backup quarterback, and Jesse Kaminskas, who has been playing a lot on the D-line.”
After Edgemont kicked off once more, Briarcliff got as far as the Edgemont 19-yard line, but the final pass attempt was broken up in the far corner of the end zone and Edgemont celebrated the Independent League Bowl Championship at home.
“Games like this are the ones you remember forever,” said Connolly, who avoided two initial ice bucket baths before allowing a third to soak him in a bitter cold early evening under the lights. “We told the kids about Kirk and Dexter [Seeley] and Bradley [Owen Fairbairn], who were on the team a couple of years ago when we played Nanuet and came back at the end to win in a similar kind of game and it’s games like that that will resonate forever. I’m really glad we came out on top in this one. They earned it.”
Last year Edgemont topped Briarcliff 28-14 in the regular season and lost 14-6 in the three/four game. This year Edgemont won both games, the first coming 40-28 in the regular season. Engineering the epic comeback was special.
“Today they played a hell of a game against us,” Gialleonardo said. “It was hard fought, but in the end we had the big play. I was ecstatic up 14-0. I thought we had it from there, but they came back and took the lead. It was definitely demoralizing, but we came back.”
Kim kicked on modified, too. Whenever a coach asks for someone with kicking experience he raises his hand and says, “I can kinda kick.” He also plays running back and linebacker, so he’s involved in every facet of the game.
“It’s my first year, so it feels good that I can contribute a lot and help the team win whenever I can,” Kim said. “It was pretty much like every other extra point — I knew I needed to make it. I’ve done it so many times so I stuck with my routine and I was excited I made it.”
Davis has learned that if each player does his or her job, the team will be successful, and can even shake off mistakes when they occur.
“You just try to do your 1/11th as coach always says,” Davis said. “If you need anything you can always ask. Our first year as freshmen we’re not supposed to be put under the spotlight and it’s understandable if you don’t do a great job. The seniors have been so helpful. If I need anything I just ask and they help me out.”
Connolly praised his freshman. “Davis has done a great job for us all year,” Connolly said. “That Tuckahoe game for us he had three onside kicks. That’s a gargantuan thing to ask of a freshman let alone kicking that one. I was so impressed.”
Gialleonardo had 1,028 yards rushing and 908 in the air this season. He even caught a TD pass from his younger brother, Milan.
“He did a great job as a freshman and sophomore in practice, which is why we knew he was going to be a good player for us this year,” Connolly said. “He’s done a great job of understanding the offense, understanding reads, knowing what he’s supposed to do every day. Last year we started to integrate him at the end of the year at quarterback. He’s used to the pressure situations.
“He’s 5-foot-6, 150 pounds, but plays like he’s 6-2, 240. The heart on that kid is out of this world. I’ll take that kid and any of our kids any day of the week over anybody else.”
Gialleonardo credited head coach Brendan Connolly and former head then assistant coach Brian Connolly for bringing him along since freshman year and putting him in a position to compete as an upperclassman.
“I think it’s really just about the underclassmen learning from the coaches and getting in the game and applying what they’ve learned so far,” Gialleonardo said. “Being on the team as a freshman is really just to learn and work your way up the system. The kids on modified don’t learn nearly as much as being on varsity. Then they can step up as sophomores.”
Griffin Frank, Daniel Fournier and Keio’s Takehiro Harada were all new to the team as seniors and contributed, with Frank and Fournier playing on both sides of the ball. Veteran seniors Gordon, Andrew Klein and Michael Paiva all played both ways for a senior class that got to go out on top.
“We came out and we were expected to be the worst in our league,” Gordon said. “We were the underdogs the entire season and inch by inch, like Coach James [Pape] said right before this game, we inched through the season and at the end of the day we came out on top. It was not one person that did it. It was a team effort all the way through. We always had each other’s backs, the coaches had our backs. We always knew what we were doing. We were ready to play.”
The Panthers were hit hard by graduation after the 2018 season, losing the likes of Matt Sayegh, Anthony Langiulli, Alex Legros and Rahim Adams. The expectations were low for this year, but Edgemont did better than last year.
“A lot of people didn't think we were going to do that well because we lost those guys,” Connolly said. “They were all great players, so we needed a lot of younger guys to step up and they did. That’s the benefit of having a lot of sophomores on the team last year — they got the playing time and knew what to expect coming in. They stepped up as juniors and did a great job for us.”
It will again be a challenge as the Raiders lose a small graduating class, but a lot of starting positions. With the two-year commitment to the independent league over, the team’s placement will be re-evaluated in the offseason for next year.
“We have a lot of people coming back, but we have to replace 11 or 12 starting positions, so that’s tough,” Connolly said. “We have five or six seniors graduating, so being able to replace those guys is a difficult thing to ask. We need some kids from modified, some kids who are on the team this year to step up. They know what they have to do and they’re good about putting the work in in the offseason. We’re also trying to recruit kids.”
No matter what type of schedule the team plays going forward, Gordon wants his teammates to remember 2019.
“I just want them to know that it’s always a team effort,” Gordon said. “There’s times when people think we rely on one person to do everything, but we’re a family and I couldn’t stress that enough. I love these boys and they love me. I can’t wait to see what they’re gonna do next year.”