On the outside, the Hudson Valley Mountaineers showed cautious optimism heading into their inaugural season as a semi-pro football team. Behind closed doors, most players simply felt caution — some outright expecting a loss in Saturday’s season opener.
A week later, the team is already flirting with title aspirations.
The Mountaineers (1-0) never trailed in last week's 26-20 road win over the Plattsburgh North Stars (0-1), impressing in all three facets of the game despite a rash of penalties in their Empire Football League debut. Now, Hudson Valley will try to stay undefeated in Saturday’s road game against the Tri-City Spartans (0-1).
“We’re not the most talented team, we’re not the most skilled team,” safety Jovan Wilkins said. “But we work hard, we have reckless abandonment and we just play for each other.”
Wilkins was one of the few players who foresaw last Saturday’s victory. The Poughkeepsie product and former NFL tryout finished second on the team with seven tackles and recorded one of the defense's three interceptions, taking it back 65 yards to give the Mountaineers strong field position. Yet that paled in comparison to his 221 return yards on special teams.
Ninety-five of those yards came on a return in the third quarter, with the Mountaineers clinging to a 14-13 lead. That’s when coach Dave Alterio tasked his veteran with saving his team from a potential blown lead in its first game.
“I need you to make an electrifying play,” Alterio told him.
And so he did, fielding a punt at the 5-yard line and taking it all the way back for six points that proved to be the difference. Wilkins ended the day with nearly 300 all-purpose yards and that game-changing score.
“He’s a sight to see,” running back Chaz Stevens said. “Every time he gets the ball, it’s just breathtaking.”
Quarterback Al Dockery, another Poughkeepsie grad, showed moments of promise in his first semi-pro outing, finishing with 131 passing yards and a 53-yard touchdown to Andre Jamison for the game’s opening score. He threw three interceptions, too, but his supporting cast did enough to offset them.
Paul Haylett, the team’s leading rusher, finished with 17 carries for 91 yards and a score. Jamison led all receivers with 79 yards and that early touchdown. Stevens and receiver/punter Tyler Peddie, two Cornwall graduates, combined for 65 of Hudson Valley’s 296 total yards of offense.
It was Peddie’s play in the fourth quarter, when he fielded a low fourth-down snap and escaped for a first-down conversion, that essentially clinched the Mountaineers’ first-ever win.
“We shut them up, basically,” Peddie said. “We came out and hit them in the mouth.”
Many of the players said they’ll need to focus on discipline and avoiding silly mistakes — as you’d expect from a first-year team — ahead of their matchup with Tri-City. But the flashes were there, even if the Mountaineers didn’t think they’d come so soon.
“I don’t think any team should doubt us, and I don’t feel like we should doubt ourselves,” Wilkins said. “We are a good team, and we have a lot more to prove.”