After a disjointed opening half, Wallkill Valley found its groove late to upend Kittatinny, 22-21, on Saturday afternoon at Wallkill Valley High School. Ben Mizeski caught the winning touchdown from Alex Mastroianni with 47 seconds left.

HARDYSTON -- The usually fiery Bob Leach kept a cool, collected demeanor as the Wallkill Valley football team entered the locker room trailing by eight points on Saturday afternoon.


The Rangers head coach had every reason to blow his top after a disjointed effort in the opening half saw Kittatinny claim the lead on a pick-six, 34-yard passing touchdown and safety.


But deep down, Leach was unaffected. He had a belief that his team would not be bothered


“Us being calm at halftime, I told them, ‘We’re going to win the game. Just relax,” Leach said. “And they did. They settled down. I said we have to make plays. That kid’s gotta play better, you have to play better, and they did. They played better. It’s a mindset.”


Trailing by six with less than five minutes to play, Wallkill Valley (2-0) proved its resolve. They held the Cougars on a fourth-down play inside the red zone and then Rangers quarterback Alex Mastroianni carried his team 81 yards in 13 plays, eventually finding Ben Mizeski for a 10-yard score on a quick out to the left sideline.


Hunter Nolan’s extra point gave the Rangers their first lead of the game with 47 seconds left and a 22-21 victory over Kittatinny (1-1) in a National Red Division slugfest on Saturday afternoon at Wallkill Valley High School.


“Our whole team stepped up, the line fought through everything,” said Mizeski, who also made two interceptions, including one to cap the win on the Cougars’ final drive. “We made big plays, we had our ups and downs, but we just kept fighting and it shows the heart this team has.”


Things seemed to be unraveling for the Rangers late in the first quarter.


With the ball inside Cougars territory on Wallkill Valley’s second drive, Mastroianni overthrew his target and Austin Seames leapt to make the interception. The Kittatinny senior went 75 yards the other way down the left sideline for the opening score to give the Cougars a 6-0 lead.


After the Rangers went three-and-out, Kyle Raposo had a 32-yard run to carry Kittatinny across midfield. Four plays later, Cougars quarterback Luke Williams connected with Tyler Sweatt on a wheel route for a 34-yard touchdown to boost his team ahead 13-0.


Two of the next three Rangers offensive plays resulted in a fumble recovery by Cougars defensive end Robert Bruce and a safety on a sack in the end zone by Jacob Mafaro.


“Coach said that with all the plays we messed up and did really bad, he wasn’t really concerned,” said Mastroianni who opened the game 2-of-6 for 14 yards before finding his groove. “He said just focus on the play that’s going on right now, give it your all and keep pushing.”


The Rangers were able to trim their deficit to 15-7 just before halftime when Romeo Cuevas recovered a fumble on a punt return at the Cougars’ 38. Mastroianni started to get in a rhythm hitting Nolan for a 26-yard gain over the middle on a fourth-and-10 to set up a 2-yard rushing score by Mizeski.


A 15-play drive by the Rangers to open the second half was halted when Jacob Mafaro tackled Mastroianni for a loss on a fourth-and-2 from the 9.


But pn the next drive, Wallkill Valley was faced with two fourth-down plays and Mastroianni helped his team convert both. Needing one from Kittatinny’s 37, he scrambled for 11. And on fourth-and-18 from the 34, Mastroianni dropped back, dug in and took off for a touchdown to tie the game with 9:12 to play.


He finished 15-of-29 for 119 yards with one touchdown and one interception through the air and ran for 40 yards more.


“I knew down the road, he would help win the game for us,” Leach said of Mastroianni. “That’s the kind of kid he is athletically and as a football player. He settled down and we won the game. We needed him down the (stretch).”


Kittatinny head coach Joe Coltelli drew up a trick play to boost his team right back in front. Williams pitch the ball to Mafaro on the right and he found Seames running unmarked for a lengthy touchdown, but the missed extra point would loom large.


After a missed fourth-down conversion, the Rangers defense dug deep and Mizeski hit Sweatt in the backfield for a 3-yard loss on third-and-1 from the 16 before Williams threw an incompletion.


The stop was the biggest for the Rangers defense, which limited Jacob Mafaro, the reigning Herald Player of the Year, to just 46 yards on 15 carries.


“For us to chill out and get a stop late, that was huge for us,” Leach said. “We’ve got kind of a young team, we have a good amount of seniors but we have a lot of young guys playing for us right now. A winning attitude is contagious. If you don’t like to lose, it’s a good thing for you, and we don’t like to lose. We’re in good shape right now.”


The stop set the stage for Mastroianni to guide his team to the win. He went 6-of-9 for 49 yards, including a 10-yard completion to Nolan on a fourth-and-5, on the final drive to help set the table for the win.


“Everyone was just focusing on what they had to do, the line, the receivers, even me, we just had to focus on trying to push the ball down the field,” Mastroianni said. “We weren’t really concerned with getting big passes but more short stuff to keep on driving down the field.”


It was a difficult loss to process for Kittatinny, which had the Rangers on the ropes throughout the contest but came up just short for the second straight season.


“We gave a great effort all day long,” Coltelli said. “We had a couple of opportunities, we could’ve made some plays, but that’s football. That’s how it goes some days. If we play like this the rest of the year, we’re going to have some good results.”