MAHOPAC — For once, a lucky bounce and near-fumble went the way of the underdog. For once, the big plays and the little things came together in tandem.
For once, it seemed everything was breaking right for Chester.
The Hambletonians had just scored with 44 seconds left in the first half, the first of two touchdowns for senior Jon Alfonso. The ensuing onside kick blasted a Dobbs Ferry player directly in the facemask — bouncing back into Chester’s reach. Suddenly, down four with less than a minute left, the offense had another shot.
The next play, junior Kevin Stein hauled in a 44-yard miracle, fumbling but recovering again at the 3-yard line, in a wild sequence that felt like a harbinger of yet another Chester comeback.
“We knew we were down,” Alfonso said, “and we just wanted to come back and keep fighting.”
And fight they did. Mike Sannino, the team’s star senior back, charged into a Dobbs Ferry wall on first down. Stein secured an acrobatic catch on second down, but he landed out of bounds. Alfonso bobbled a third attempt, leaving the offense with three seconds and a sense of desperation.
The Eagles fought back, stuffing Sannino at the goal line as the clock showed zeroes. It was as close as Chester (8-3) came to taking a lead, as Dobbs Ferry (7-2) ripped off 23 straight points in the second half to run away with a 35-14 win in Saturday’s Class C regional final.
“We just played terrible,” Sannino said. “We didn’t play our game the way we should have.”
Sannino — who rushed for 226 yards in a 14-6 loss to Dobbs Ferry last month — was held to under 100 yards and no scores on Saturday, a week after scoring five times in the section title win over Spackenkill. On the other side, Emilio Nolasco tallied three touchdowns and a two-point conversion against a Chester defense that faded down the stretch.
The first of Nolasco’s scores came midway through the second quarter, as a light snow sprinkled the Mahopac High School field. That’s when Chester responded with its best drive of the day, capped off by Alfonso’s red-zone slant for six and the subsequent drive that fell victim to the clock.
“We knew we had to score there,” Sannino said. “We just tried coming out hot, and we couldn’t finish it.”
Chester had a chance to seize momentum early, when it pinned Dobbs Ferry on its own 1-yard line on the Eagles’ first drive. They nearly fumbled the ball away a few plays later before pouncing on it. Then, in Chester territory, the Eagles appeared to fumble it again before the officials called the play dead — much to the chagrin of Chester coaches and fans.
The result was a 99-yard drive and score to take a lead that Chester could never overcome. When Alfonso scored his second touchdown with 4:11 left, Dobbs Ferry had already put its stamp on a second win in as many tries over the Section 9 champions.
“It was a good season, we won sections,” Sannino said. “But, to be honest, we wanted to go farther.”
Still, it was a banner season for Chester, which won sections for the first time since 2014 — when it reached the Class D state title game — and the first time since moving up to Class C. The Hambletonians erased a 20-point deficit against Spackenkill in a thrilling win and crushed the Spartans in a title rematch, and their only regular-season losses were to Burke Catholic and Dobbs Ferry. For this junior-heavy team, the future is decidedly bright.
But Saturday’s rematch was too much for Chester. After the trophy celebration, the players quickly packed their bags and left the field — a bitter taste masking a sense of pride from a season that ended too soon.
“I know who my family is right now,” Alfonso said, as he trudged off Mahopac’s field in the bristling cold. “After this game, they’re still going to be my family.”