Rye Country Day Football

By Mitch Silver

Quick, who are the Capital Prep Harbor Sharks? If you guessed they’re a football team from Albany or Hartford or Trenton, you’d be wrong. The Harbor Sharks hail from Bridgeport, and, in only the program’s third year of varsity play, they’re already a scary opponent.

How scary? Rye Country Day Head Coach John Calandros put in a new rush-out-of-the-huddle kickoff formation to counteract their speed. “Their two returners have been recruited by Division 1 schools. Together they average a touchdown on kickoffs every game. So we weren’t going to let them do it to us.” Instead, the Wildcats tried six onside kicks, recovering two.

The good news is six kickoffs mean you’ve scored a bunch of touchdowns. But so did the Harbor Sharks, and they scored first. QB Andre Woodson, one of those D1 recruits, scrambled around midfield on a 3rd and 23 before completing a desperation pass at Rye’s one-foot line. Woodson took it in and then made the two-point conversion: 8-0 Sharks.

One play into the second quarter, burly sophomore running back Cullen Coleman shed three tackles on the way to a Wildcat score. The pitch-back on a two-point attempt failed.

That 8-6 score soon became 14-6 when, after a roughing-the-kicker penalty kept a Capital drive alive, Woodson connected on 4th and 9 to his receiver in the right corner of the end zone. A bad snap ruined the PAT attempt. Even so, the Sharks’ fans were playing the theme music from “Jaws” on their iPhones.

Rye Country Day knotted the score with six and a half minutes to go before halftime. First, another Coleman — junior linebacker Cam — used his 4.4 speed to nail Woodson for a 15-yard sack. Then, when the locals got the ball, junior quarterback and co-captain Nick Owens found classmate Justin Mandell wide open at the 20. The two-pointer was good.

Capital Prep scored what seemed like a back-breaker with nine seconds left in the half when Woodson took the ball in on a sneak. The Wildcats stopped the two-point run, but were penalized on the play. Amazingly, they stopped the next try as well, and went into the break trailing by only 20-14.

The Harbor Sharks took the third-quarter kickoff down to the Wildcat 25, but a huge sack by senior co-captain Jack Curry gave his team the ball. Junior co-captain Allen Houston caught a pass, freshman Ben Pearce cut back for another first down, and a little pitchout to Cullen Coleman brought the team even again at 20-all. For variety, a fake kick failed on the PAT attempt.

But the “good hands people” recovered the ball on the ensuing kickoff and Cullen Coleman did the rest, running for a couple of first downs before barreling through for the go-ahead score. Wouldn’t you know it, though, the two-point run was stopped. Still, the home side was up by 26-20.

The defensive turning point of the game came a minute into the fourth period when Justin Mandell when high in the end zone to intercept a Woodson TD attempt. Less than a minute later, Owens found junior Conrad Crakes on a fly pattern along the left sideline, and Crakes went in untouched to make it 32-20. The kick, for once, was good.

Game over? Not quite. A 14-yard Wildcats punt with five minutes left in the game gave the Sharks another bite at the apple, and a little flare pass to the right flat found the end zone 62 seconds later.

Capital Prep had the ball one last time with 90 seconds to go. Cam Coleman hit Woodson as he was looking to throw and Curry wrapped him up for the sack. It forced the visitors to try a desperation pass that Mandell saw coming all the way. “The receiver broke off his route, but I was able to stay with him,” the defensive back said afterwards of his second, game-saving interception. “We were all on this one the whole way.”

So they were. The Wildcats look to go 4-1 on the season tomorrow when they host Hopkins Grammar at 3:30 p.m.

Cullen Coleman carries three defenders into the end zone.

Cam Coleman is all over the ball carrier as Justin Mandell closes in.

Conrad Crakes hauls in a 79-yard TD pass from Nick Owens.