No sooner than Nicholas Imperato threw the biggest pass of his life, his pads were off and his right shoulder was back in a sling. North Rockland’s quarterback had an aching throwing arm all week, which was exacerbated by a New Rochelle defense intent on repeatedly driving him into the ground.
“It’s been killing me,” Imperato said. “And I hurt it again today.”
Imperato never experienced more pain in his body yet felt the euphoria in his heart more than after overtime on Saturday. The senior ended another playoff classic, tossing a game-winning 9-yard score to Samuel Pierre-Louis in a 13-10 thriller to dethrone defending state champion New Rochelle.
North Rockland, the No. 2 seed out of League B in Class AA, advanced to the semifinals in the Section 1 tournament with the victory, ending a three-game losing streak to its inter-County rival.
New Rochelle beat the Red Raiders in the final minute last regular season, blew them out in last year’s Section 1 title game and then stole a 22-21 win last week.
“I was on the team last year and we lost to them twice and it was heartbreaking the way we lost in the sectional championship,” Imperato said. “Finally, for once to actually beat them, it made my season.
New Rochelle had gone ahead 10-7 after getting the ball first in overtime. Freddy Sandoval, who missed a 37-yarder in the final minute of regulation, drilled a 34-yarder to put the Huguenots ahead.
Imperato got North Rockland moving on its possession, running for two yards and drawing a flag for a late hit, giving the Red Raiders the ball at the 9.
All Pierre-Louis had to do was stick out his hands on the final play as the tight end dragged across the field at the goal line and outside of the New Rochelle defense. Imperato, who threw for 126 yards and two scores, sat in the pocket and patiently waited for his receiver to get open.
“All I am thinking is ‘This is my time right here.’ It was a perfect pass,” Pierre-Louis said. “It was such a big opportunity. I had to catch it.
“Once I threw it, I saw he had space on his guy,” Imperato said. “I knew he was going to catch it.”
North Rockland led 7-0 at halftime after Imperato threw a dart over the middle to Sam Finn, who turned up field and went 83 yards for a touchdown. The Red Raiders had a chance to put the game out of reach late in the third but fumbled in the end zone for a touchback.
After three quiet quarters, the teams staged a compelling fourth. New Rochelle drove 80 yards after the turnover, scoring on an 18-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Forrest. The junior had 112 yards rushing on 32 carries.
The Red Raiders actually fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the first of three fourth-quarter turnovers. The defense, led by nose guard Eric Favors, managed to keep New Rochelle off the board each time.
“The defense just had to step up because we turned the ball over six times,” North Rockland coach Tom Lynch said. “They really stepped up and gave us a chance to win.”
Imperato expects to play in Saturday’s semifinal on the road against Ketcham. The confidence on this team, he believes, is soaring.
“We feel like we can beat anybody now,” Imperato said. "This was big for us."