After the postgame handshakes, Brian Vegliando sprinted 50 yards with the spoils of the Wallkill football team’s victory held high over his head into the throng of jumping players.
There was plenty to celebrate because for the first time since 2017, The Helmet is returning to Wallkill.
While the defense held the Valley Central Vikings scoreless, and after a frustrating night for the offense, quarterback Mat Shea connected with running back Eric Blackshear for a one-yard touchdown pass with 1:57 left in the game, giving the Panthers a 7-0 victory in the annual Battle of the Valley.
But that still left two more minutes for the Vikings to match the Panthers.
The Vikings got a first down and moved the ball to their own 47-yard line, but three straight incompletions and a stop on fourth down sealed the Panthers’ victory.
On a night where the defense did the heavy lifting, it was only fitting the victory was sealed with the defense on the field.
“I can’t even describe this feeling,” linebacker Gabriel Crespi, who recovered two fumbles, said after the game.
“Everything I do on this field, I do it for my teammates, my coaches and my town. We’ve been waiting for this game, especially since the disappointment from last year. It was just an indescribable feeling winning this game.”
The Panthers nearly brought the Helmet back to Wallkill in April during the Fall 2 COVID season, but the Vikings won the game on a touchdown pass from Logan Sherwood to Randy Rosario for a 22-19 victory.
“It means everything in the world,” Vegliando said.
Now, both have graduated, and the Vikings’ offense is built around the running of Elijah Bellinger and quarterback Bryce DeRonda. Bellinger had trouble finding room to run. They eventually got the Vikings’ offense moving late in the second quarter.
Starting on their own 23-yard line with about 4 minutes to go, the combination of DeRonda and Bellinger moved the Vikings to the Panthers’ 20-yard line when things started going awry.
“It’s hard to get the guys to stay focused on a 12-play drive,” Valley Central coach Andrew LaVallie said. “The team that we have: we’re a strong running team, and you have to have discipline to keep those 12-play drives going.”
A bad snap on a field goal attempt short-circuited a 33-yard field goal attempt by Aaron Medina, as he kicked the ball before holder Tyler Pucci could get the ball down and the kick went over the play and into the end zone.
The Panthers had their own field-goal problems.
They were set up for field goal attempt when a bad snap caused Mason Ondreyko to go into the fire drill and his pass was intercepted by Ryan Charouf to the Wallkill 39-yard line. Charouf ended a fourth-quarter Wallkill scoring attempt with an interception in the end zone.
“They’ve got a great passing game and if you shut down their passing game, they’re not going to move the ball,” LaVallie said. “That was our game plan coming, to stop (Shea) from throwing the ball on us. That seemed to work the entire game.”
It also helped the Vikings that the Panthers couldn’t get in sync. A missed catch in the fourth quarter had Jack Rauschenbach pounding at the turf in frustration and Jeremy Figueroa couldn’t haul in a possible touchdown pass and stood at the screen behind the end zone in anger for a few extra beats.
But things finally came together in the final drive as Shea hit Figueroa with a 36-yard pass to the Vikings’ 19. On the next play, a roughing the passer gave the Panthers a first-and-goal from the 9.
Sean Perrin brought the Panthers to the fourth and Shea’s third-down run gave them a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
That’s when Shea connected with Blackshear for the touchdown, finally giving the Panthers some points.
“To be honest, we were highly (relieved),” Blackshear said. “But the defense was there.”