Joe Clarke knew he'd face one-on-one coverage. He had seen how North Rockland planned to defend him the previous play. Would he be open? No. In fact, when the time came, Clarke had defensive back Desmond Vaughn standing directly between his chest and quarterback Khalil Edney. But those who know New Rochelle know one man often isn't enough to stop the senior tight end.
"'Pop' threw it up," Clarke said of Edney. "And I came down with the ball."
Clarke, the 6-foot-2 basketball star, leaped, reached over the defender and came down with a 20-yard touchdown catch with just 47 seconds remaining. It lifted New Rochelle over North Rockland 12-6 in a classic defensive clash between the section's top two Class AA programs.
"Clarke made a great catch," Red Raiders coach Tom Lynch said. "Our guy was right on him. He was right there. The kid just took the ball out of his hands."
Points were difficult to come by, which was expected between these teams. They had allowed just 10 points combined through three weeks. North Rockland hadn't even allowed a touchdown until Edney connected with Ahmad Encarnacion to tie the game 6-6 early in the fourth quarter.
The Huguenots dominated field position in the first half, but they were twice stopped inside the red zone. Edney took off on a fourth-down scramble but was stopped on a shoestring tackle by John Dapolito at the North Rockland 8. Later in the quarter, Edney's exchange with Ceneus was fumbled and recovered at the 23 by Danny Noel.
Noel, a defensive end, also had a key sack of Edney on New Rochelle's last drive of the second quarter to help slow the Huguenots' momentum. He added another on the play before Clarke's touchdown catch and scored the Red Raiders' only touchdown on a 1-yard plunge to cap a 14-play drive to open the third quarter. Senior Nick Connell, who rushed for 106 yards, broke a long run to set up the score.
In the end, New Rochelle's stars delivered key plays. Edney finished 13 for 21 for 161 yards and the two touchdowns. Senior Terrence Holden had two interceptions, including one on a quarterback pressure by senior Ray Ganley and another on Nick Imperato's Hail Mary pass from the Huguenots' 36 on the game's final play.
Prior to the Clarke touchdown, Ceneus had swung the momentum for good. He returned a punt 32 yards to the North Rockland 33 to give New Rochelle a better chance to score, considering less than two minutes remained in the game.
"I try to be a playmaker for my teammates all the time," Ceneus said. "I always try to make big plays for them. The moment came and I made the best of it."