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Defense Leads John Jay Into Football Title Game

CROSS RIVER, N.Y. -- It did not take the John Jay defense long to establish itself Wednesday. And once it did, the Indians made it a long and miserable night for Rye’s offense. Top-seeded John Jay turned up the tenacity and used its quickness to stonewall third-seeded Rye for a 21-0 victory in a Section 1 Class A Football Championship semifinal. John Jay (8-1), which extended its winning streak to eight consecutive games, will play undefeated Poughkeepsie (9-0) for the Class A title on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Mahopac High School. Poughkeepsie defeated Ossining. This will be John Jay’s first appearance in a sectional final since 2006 and fourth overall under coach Jimmy Clark. The first three title-game appearances, 2002, ‘05 and ‘06, were all in Class AA.

“It’s amazing that we’ve come this far but we want to keep it going,” said senior two-way starting lineman Ryan Sanders. Sanders, along with his defensive line mates, were constantly in the face of Rye quarterback Andrew Livingston, sacking him, knocking him down or forcing him to scramble for his own safety. When the linemen and linebackers were not making it uncomfortable for Livingston, they were shutting down Rye’s vaunted running-back duo of Jake Meyerson and Joe Simolacaj.

John Jay, under the guidance of defensive coordinator Ryan Velez, sacked Livingston six times. He finished 12 of 29 for 92 yards and two interceptions. Jimmy O’Reilly transformed one of the interceptions into an 80-yard touchdown return.

Meyerson was limited to 42 yards and Simolacaj had a season-low 37 yards. In the teams’ regular-season meeting, John Jay’s defense faced Meyerson, who was the quarterback at the time. The Indians had to prepare for Livingston, as well as the running of Meyerson and Simolacaj.

“We felt that the freshman quarterback was a good runner and passer,” said Sanders of Livingston. “Our defensive line wanted to make sure we were quick off the ball and get the pressure because we knew that our secondary would have the coverage.”

Clark said this was the best defensive game a John Jay team has played during his tenure.

“It was their approach to the game,” Clark said. “They played physical football and fast football on every play. The defensive line got a good push the entire game. Even when they were not getting to the quarterback, they were getting the push and making it uncomfortable for him back there.”

The defense made a stand in the first quarter and it resulted in a momentum shift. Rye was facing a third-and-2 from its 47 when Meyerson was stopped for no gain on a sweep left. On fourth-and-2, Sanders was in on Livingston so quickly, it forced the Rye quarterback into an incompletion.

“That definitely gave us a little confidence boost and after that we knew we could keep it up on defense,” Sanders said.

John Jay needed only three plays to cover the 47 yards with the final 42 coming on quarterback Jack Lambert’s run. Lambert catapulted himself through a hole at the line of scrimmage and was gone, increasing John Jay’s lead to 14-0.

Rye’s deepest penetration of the game happened on the final series of the first half. On second-and-16 from the John Jay 26, O’Reilly picked off a deflected pass and followed his wall of blockers down the sideline for a touchdown with 40 seconds remaining.

“Our secondary was flying to the ball and playing bruising football the entire game,” Sanders said. “That was a great play by Jimmy.”

Danny Caiola gave John Jay a 7-0 lead on an eight-yard run in the first quarter. It capped a 65-yard drive in 11 plays. The key conversion came on fourth-and-7 from the Rye 20 as Tyler Keech connected with Lambert for 12 yards. Originally, John Jay lined up for a 37-yard field goal, but Clark called a time out and went for it.

Rye 0 0 0 0 -- 0 John Jay 14 7 0 0 -- 21

John Jay -- Danny Caiola 8 run (Michael Corrado kick). John Jay -- Jack Lambert 42 run (Corrado kick). John Jay -- Jimmy O’Reilly 80 interception return (Corrado kick).

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