All fall, Lou DiRienzo talked about his players in terms of a two-year journey. Their stars were mostly starters a year ago and met both success and struggles along the way.
That path ended in Syracuse, at the Carrier Dome, on Saturday night, when every lesson learned led to this moment. And, oh, what a moment it was.
"This was our best game of the season," New Rochelle senior Joe Clarke said. "And it couldn't have come at a better time."
The Huguenots finished a month of vast improvement in strong fashion, thoroughly dominating defending state champ Orchard Park 34-6 to win the Class AA state championship. It marked the second state title in program history, linking this team with the 2003 state champs of Ray Rice and Courtney Greene.
New Rochelle (11-1) outgained the Section 6 champ 337-257, but those numbers belied the true story rather than telling it. The Huguenots jumped ahead 28-0 in the first half and didn't punt until the third quarter. Orchard Park's only TD came in the final quarter against New Ro's second-team defense.
"It was in all facets of the game. We played well on offense, on defense and on special teams," New Rochelle coach Lou DiRienzo said. "It was a total team victory and totally unexpected. I was just praying for a competitive game and fortunately my kids played well and are state champions."
Senior Jason Ceneus earned game MVP honors, burning Orchard Park with his speed and elusiveness. He forced an early fumble that led to a touchdown, rushed for 75 yards and caught a 40-yard touchdown that saw him slip the grip of two tacklers who had him in their grasp.
The play epitomized how New Rochelle held its edge over the bigger, deeper Quakers (11-2).
"We kept it simple. The more we knew about what we were doing, the faster we were going to play," Ceneus said. "We had to use our speed today. They had a little bit of weight on us, but speed kills and we got it done."
So did QB Khalil Edney, who finished 6 for 10 for 93 yards and two TDs, including another on a pass to Clarke that the tight end tipped to himself. The senior also had seven carries for 91 yards and another two scores, one a 47-yard scramble sprung by a Clarke block.
Edney delivered on an earlier promise to win for his mother, who lost her battle with breast cancer exactly six years ago Saturday -- a date, Nov. 24, he has tattooed on his arm.
"This game and this moment were very special for me," Edney said. "When I stepped on the field before kickoff started, I had a moment with her."
In the heat of the action, several Huguenots had their moment. Few were more impressive than senior Shayne Forbes, a 5-foot-6 linebacker who recorded a team-high 11 tackles and three sacks. Fellow seniors Terrence Holden and Ray Ganley each added a sack and Gavin Harley recovered a fumble.
Like his team, Forbes' explosive finish marked a satisfying end point for his ever-improving play. He missed the first three games this season with knee surgery and only reached full strength in recent weeks. "Everything came together," Forbes said. "I just kept working hard at it."
As did the Huguenots. After a sometimes frustrating regular season, they posted their four largest margins of victory in their last five games, all in the playoffs.
"We had to get it together. Everyone had talked about how New Rochelle's offense was this and that in the past, but this was a new era," Edney said. "We started off slow, but when it counted, playoff time, we got better."