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Steven Bencosme's phone would not stop lighting up this past week. The multitude of texts and calls all had the same exact message: beat Ossining.
"I couldn't tell you how many guys texted me and called me letting me know that we had to win this game — that we could win this game," the Sleepy Hollow senior captain said.
Bencosme and his teammates responded to those pleas in a big way, snapping a nine-game losing streak to archrival Ossining with a 34-21 win Friday evening at Ossining High School.
It was the Headless Horsemen's first victory over the Pride since 1983. Sleepy Hollow now holds a 19-18-1 edge in the all-time series, which dates back to 1955.
"The feeling is unexplainable," said Bencosme, an all-state safety. "It was tied 18-18 and to make it 19 … there are no words for it. It's a rivalry that's been going on for more than 50 years and it was a great game and great turnout for us."
Sleepy Hollow junior quarterback Devin Lopez turned in the greatest individual performance of the night. The first-year starter rushed for 235 yards and three touchdowns and completed 5 of 12 passes for 115 yards.
"Heart," Lopez said when asked about what made this Sleepy Hollow team different than those that had failed in the past. "We worked so hard this summer and this week. We watched film for hours and worked our butts off for this. It feels good to come out with a win."
The Horsemen, who trailed 21-14 at the break, turned in a dominant second-half performance. Powered by Lopez's three rushing touchdowns, Sleepy Hollow outscored Ossining 20-0 to put the game on ice.
Sleepy Hollow coach Steve Borys' halftime speech to his players was the exact opposite of fire and brimstone.
"Coach said, 'Let's not come out there riled up. Let's come out there focused and ready to play,'" senior captain Frank Curanaj said. "That helped us a lot."
The Horsemen came out of the locker room like a different team, engineering a flawless scoring drive on the opening possession of the second half. Lopez capped it off with a 3-yard run up the gut to even it at 21-21 with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
"We thought too much in the first half and were too aggressive and too hyped with the crowd and the rivalry," said Bencosme, who scored on a 5-yard run to give the Horsemen a 14-6 lead with under a minute left in the first quarter. "We just had to get that out of our heads. Come second half we dominated."
Junior running back Donte Ellis setup the go-ahead score with a 56-yard catch down to the Ossining 1-yard line. Lopez finished it off with another quarterback sneak and Sleepy Hollow grabbed a 28-21 lead with 4:37 left in the third. It marked the Horsemen's first lead since the 59-second mark of the opening quarter.
Ellis, who got the start in place of injured star Dominic Onwe, made the most of his opportunity, carrying the ball 12 times for 63 yards and a touchdown. He scored from 6 yards out to help Sleepy Hollow take an early 7-0 first-quarter lead.
Ossining — which struggled to move the ball in the second half — had a chance to tie it up with a little over four minutes left in regulation. Faced with fourth-and-5 at the Sleepy Hollow 15-yard line, Ossining put the ball in the hands of Stephen Candelaria — its most explosive playmaker. But Candelaria, who rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown, was stacked up well short of the marker.
"I said to everyone, 'We have to stop them now. If we stop them now, this is our game,'" Curanaj said. "And we did it — we stopped them."
Lopez put the finishing touches on the victory with a 53-yard touchdown run inside the final 30 seconds of the fourth.
"I saw green, sprinted and got in there with great blocking," he said.
Unlike Sleepy Hollow, Ossining played without its No. 1 quarterback under center. But backup Michael Pappalardo, who was forced into action after starter Justin Davidov went down with a broken ankle last week against Poughkeepsie, did an admirable job filling in.
In his first-ever varsity start, Pappalardo threw for 82 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with tight end Steven Orts for an 8-yard score on fourth down to trim Sleep Hollow's lead to 7-6 with 3:00 left in the opening quarter.
Pappalardo then threw a 53-yard screen pass to Josh Almodovar (72 receiving yards, 83 rushing yards), who bulldozed through Sleepy Hollow's secondary en route to the end zone. The Pride converted the ensuing 2-point conversion to even it at 14-14 after one.
Candelaria scored the lone touchdown of the second quarter on an 8-yard run as Ossining went into the half with a 21-14 lead.
Per usual, Sleepy Hollow came out of the break and finished strong. In their six wins this season, the Horsemen have outscored the opposition a combined 96-29 in the second half.
Looking ahead, Sleepy Hollow will now try and carry that momentum into the upcoming Section 1 Class A playoffs. It marks the first year the program has qualified for the postseason in Class A. If Harrison defeats Rye on Saturday, the Horsemen will clinch the No. 2 seed out League 1 and will likely face the winner of Saturday's Port Chester vs. Saunders game.
Needless to say, Bencosme likes their chances.
"We don't have many guys this year, but the people we have are the right guys," he said. "It is like Sparta."