By Sean Lynch
Section 9 Football Insider Staff
NEWBURGH — Despite the frosty temperatures, there wasn’t a frown in sight Wednesday night at the Section 9 Exceptional Senior Game. The National team defeated the American team 23-13.
The National team featured top seniors from Monroe-Woodbury, Pine Bush, Kingston, Minisink Valley, Warwick, Roosevelt, Liberty, O’Neill, Burke Catholic, Rondout Valley, Chester, Onteora, Fallsburg, and Pine Plains.
The game has become one of the highlights of the season and provides players from throughout Section 9 with an opportunity to play with their peers. Longtime friends were chirping at each other, while new teammates got to know each other. Several coaches game-planned with each other instead of finding ways to beat one-another.
Burke Catholic head coach and National team offensive coordinator Aaron Hasbrouck seemed to be having the time of his life calling plays for the National team.
Hasbrouck made the most of his opportunities, running two end-around plays which resulted in Monroe-Woodbury WR Jack Dembia throwing two 30-yard passes.
“This is great,” he said. “I love the senior game, man. This thing is so much fun.”
Coaches weren’t the only ones having fun, players couldn’t help but crack jokes too, even towards sports reporters on the sidelines during the game.
Washingtonville kicker Aidan Hopper came up to me and jokingly said, “You should write a story about that beauty of a punt I just kicked.”
Sorry Aidan, the story isn’t about your beautiful punt, but you did get a mention in a story for the first time this season — after all, kickers are people too.
After getting tackled on the sideline by Minisink Valley DE Anton Juncaj, Washingtonville QB Vinny Martello told the 6-foot-4 Juncaj exactly how he felt.
“Dude, you’re 6’4” 250 pounds, there’s no way you should be just as fast as me,” he said.
Juncaj got up, shrugged his shoulders and tapped Martello’s helmet.
Juncaj wasn’t the only guy Martello talked to during the game. He spent a lot of time next to Newburgh Free Academy running back Giani Hill on the sideline.
“It’s really cool talking to someone that you would consider an enemy during the regular season,” he said. “I’ve never talked to Giani before. We just built a relationship during the game and it was pretty awesome.”
Martello completed three passes to Hill, including a 31-yarder in the third quarter.
For Pine Bush QB Haakon Meland, it was the last time he will ever play quarterback competitively.
“It’s been real. Most of my life I’ve been running on these football fields, and it’s a little surreal right now that I just played in my last game.”
As a part of the National team, Meland was really happy with some of Hasbrouck’s play calls. He let Meland air it out, something Meland hadn’t done much at Pine Bush. “He opened up the playbook and that was really nice. I’m glad I got to throw a lot today, because baseball season is only right around the corner,” he said jokingly.
Players gathered around to take their final pictures with teammates in uniforms and parents gathered around and hugged their kids. In a sport where smiles are hard to be seen, everyone involved in the Section 9 Exceptional Senior Game went home happy and feeling good.