There were a lot of unknowns for the Riverdale Falcons coming into this season.
Armed with a new coach in Phil Treglia, a new system, and a very young roster, there were questions as to whether this edition of the Falcons would be demonstrably better than the one that finished last season at 2-5.
But last Saturday in their season opener at Horace Mann, the Falcons got some answers. Treglia had his team ready to rock, his system seemed to excel on all cylinders, and that young roster played like a gang of cagey veterans.
With sophomore Conor O’Neil starting at quarterback, and a swarming defense led by junior David Korn and his non-stop motor, Riverdale jumped on Horace Mann early and never let up as the Falcons rolled to a 27-0 victory over their neighborhood rivals.
It was the first taste of the Falcons-Lions rivalry for Treglia, and as one might have expected, he enjoyed the experience.
“The kids are great,” the coach said. “They let us know that Horace Mann is a big rival for them. They’re in close proximity to our school, and Horace Mann has had a lot of success in the past couple of years. So we just wanted to come out in our first game and show our stuff.”
And the Falcons did just that.
On their opening drive, O’Neil connected with Jonah Feinberg with a 37-yard touchdown pass for a quick 7-0 Falcons lead as fans were still arriving at the game. Following a Horace Mann punt on its first possession, O’Neil and the Falcons struck again, this time on a three-yard TD toss to Jonathan Faber, and it was 14-0 Falcons with 1:36 left in the first.
Not a bad beginning for a young quarterback making his first career start.
“It felt really good, to be honest with you,” O’Neil said. “Last year I saw limited time at quarterback, so to come out here and play the way we did felt really good.”
While the Falcons offense gave it the early cushion, it was Riverdale’s unrelenting defense that kept the Lions at bay. On its three first-half possessions, Horace Mann — the two-time defending Ivy League champions — punted, turned the ball over on downs, and took a knee to run out the clock in the first half.
Things did not improve much for the Lions at the start of the third quarter when they were forced to punt on their opening drive only to see Riverdale add to its lead the first time it got its hands on the ball.
Senior Harry Landis, in for O’Neil at quarterback, gave Feinberg his second TD grab of the day, this time on a 25-yard scoring strike for a 20-0 lead. O’Neil later returned to the game and added a 65-yard scoring run to put the capper on a brilliant day for the sophomore.
So which tasted sweeter? The two touchdown throws, or his 65-yard run to paydirt?
“I don’t really know,” O’Neil said.
“The run was scarier, though. I was looking behind me the whole time. But I had some incredible blocking by our O-Line. We played incredibly well, probably better than anyone’s expectations.”
Treglia was impressed by the play of both his quarterbacks.
“Conor’s only a sophomore so he has room to grow,” Treglia said. “We have a really good quarterback coach named Joe McDermott that’s working with Conor and Harry, and that extra attention they get, I think, helped them on the field today.”
Not to be outdone by the Falcons’ offensive exploits was the work turned in by Riverdale’s smothering defense, led by Korn, Will Jenkins, Stephen Fealey, Nathaniel Braus and Charlie Berger, among others. The Falcons were dominant throughout the game and never let the Lions get any deeper than Riverdale’s 22-yard line.
“It’s awesome to get the shutout,” said Korn, who seemed to be in on every tackle. “Treglia is new this year, and to have it all going well is a great sign. To see that score is just amazing. There’s only a five-block walk between the two schools, so this is a great feeling.”
For Treglia, the veteran coach in his rookie season at Riverdale, it was about as solid as it could get.
“It’s always good to start off strong,” Treglia said. “The kids are having fun. Our coaches are having fun. And our fans were, too. So it’s a real positive for our program.”