It was just before kickoff of Fieldston’s Metropolitan Independent Football League semifinal matchup with Rye Country Day when Eagles’ coach Gus Ornstein delivered the grim news.
“We’re without four starters,” Ornstein said with a rueful laugh.
The four? Alexander Thorpe, the Eagles’ bruising running back and linebacker, missing because of his ejection from the previous contest against Pingry. Wide receiver Ben Rosen-Cappellazzo was out due to illness. And a pair of key offensive linemen — Spenser Egnatz and Kurt Koons — also would not suit up because of injuries.
That was the bad and worse news. The “you-got-to-be-kidding-me-with-this” news came early in the second quarter when, with Fieldston already in a two-touchdown hole, senior quarterback Jesse Cooper-Leary joined the walking wounded after suffering a concussion from a sack.
By halftime, the Fieldston trainer’s table was standing room only as Elijah Johnson, Ryan Conrad, Nate Ivill-Weiner and Gabe Hostin all waited to be treated by Carolyn Smith.
“She was working as hard as anyone out here today,” Ornstein said. “This was about as big a MASH unit as I’ve ever seen.”
You wondered at one point if the Eagles would have enough players to finish the game. But they managed, and when the final horn sounded, top-seeded Rye Country Day had manhandled fourth-seeded Fieldston, 43-0.
Fieldston will now play Pingry in the MIFL consolation game Saturday.
“That’s as physical a team as our guys have ever seen,” Ornstein said.
“I mean No. 45 (Cam Coleman) and No. 44 (Cullen Coleman), they are tough and they go looking for contact. Whether they’re running the ball or playing defense, they’re looking to hit you.”
As much as the Wildcats liked contact, they seemed to enjoy the Fieldston end zone just as much as they scored early and often. Rye scored on its second possession on a one-yard run by Allan Houston for a 7-0 lead, upping it to 14-0 minutes later when Conrad Crakes scooped up a Fieldston fumble and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
The Wildcats’ Julian Martelly then went 75 yards for another score midway through the second quarter before quarterback Nick Owens added an 11-yard scoring run and Cullen Coleman closed out the half with a 31-yard touchdown run, and it was 36-0.
Battered and broken and with their dream of a MIFL championship now over, credit the Eagles with not folding their tent and calling it a day as Fieldston allowed just one second-half score the rest of the game.
“It showed how resilient we were,” said senior center Asher Raduns-Silverstein. “At no point in this game did we fall apart or start knocking heads. We were always together, always a team.”
Ornstein, too, thought his team showed as much fight as it could muster, considering their undermanned status. It’s just as the injuries mounted, he had fewer and fewer options to counter Rye.
“I thought we competed for the first quarter and a half,” Ornstein said. “I thought we played pretty hard. Then we lose Jesse.”
In all, the Eagles used five different quarterbacks, something of a record for Raduns-Silverstein.
“I’ve snapped to three before but never five,” Raduns-Silverstein said. “It was funny, with one of our freshmen quarterbacks, I had to adjust where his hand placement was in mid-snap.”
It was just a product of a dwindling roster for the Eagles.
“We had freshmen playing who had no business playing in a game like this,” Ornstein said.
Raduns-Silverstein was aware the Eagles already were behind the eight-ball coming into the game. But he was proud of his team’s effort under some trying circumstances.
“There was definitely a sense of what were we going to do,” Raduns-Silverstein said. “But again, we are such a closely knit team that we just pulled it together and leaned on each other. There were times we were like, ‘Oh, what are we going to do about play calling without Jesse? What are we going to do on defense without Thorpe?’ But we knew we could all kind of fall back on each other and pick each other up.”
Ornstein stressed to his team that this loss should not take away from what has been a rather successful season for the Eagles (4-4), while Raduns-Silverstein said a win in his career finale versus Pingry will be a nice way to go out.
“We are going to win next week,” Raduns-Silverstein said. “I’ve been in love with the Fieldston football program since I was 7. My brother, Jonah, was a captain here and football has been a huge part of my life and for all the seniors. So that game will mean a little more.
“We will not let this game deter us.”