Falcons hold off Horace Mann, 34-21, in gridiron opener

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It was an odd sight seeing the Riverdale Country Falcons dressed in their road white uniforms while warming up for their season opener on their home field. 

In a game originally scheduled to be played at Horace Mann, the contest was a last-minute switch to Riverdale when Mann’s new field was not game-ready last Saturday.

So the move was made, technically making the Falcons guests in their own house.

“Being in white on this field isn’t something we normally do,” Riverdale head coach Joe Otero said.

Maybe the Falcons should think about wearing white more often, even if it is after Labor Day, because the Falcons opened their season in style with a 34-21 victory over neighborhood rival Horace Mann at Frank J. Bertino Field.   

Coming into the season, one of the bigger questions surrounding the Falcons was who was going to replace the now-graduated workhorse running back Avery Hoffman. That chore was placed squarely on the shoulders of Jeffrey Barrett, and the senior running back did not disappoint. 

Barrett rushed for two touchdowns and seemingly picked up every key first down for Riverdale in his first game as the Falcons’ feature back. 

His performance came as no surprise to Otero.

“He did very well, very well,” Otero said. “Jeffrey hits the hole really hard.”

Horace Mann took at early 7-0 lead after Lions quarterback Brody McGuinn connected with Ray Silverman for a 37-yard scoring toss. After that, Barrett began to go to work. He capped an eight-play, 68-yard drive with a 6-yard scoring run to pull the Falcons within 7-6 with 9:08 to play in the first half. 

Then on the Falcons’ next possession, he personally accounted for 30 of the 55 yards, capping it with a 1-yard run and a 14-7 Riverdale lead. 

If there were any lingering questions whether Barrett could replace Hoffman, well, they were answered by halftime.

“Avery was definitely a talented running back, but I was in the backfield with him last year and learned a bit from him, and that definitely helped me out,” Barrett said. “But coming into the season, I felt pretty confident. I was training for running back all season, so I felt good coming into this game.”

Teammate Ernie Robertson said he knew Barrett would give a quality effort.

“He stepped up in a big way,” Robertson said. “We definitely wouldn’t have gotten this win without Jeffrey. He hit the holes well, he ran hard, and he got us yards and first downs when we needed them.”

But Barrett didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting for the Falcons. Senior quarterback Ryan Rosenzweig was his usual stellar self as he rushed for one score and found Toby Edelstein with an 8-yard touchdown pass that gave the Falcons a 28-7 lead with 9:49 left in the third quarter.

And then there was Robertson.

Robertson, Riverdale’s supreme senior receiver and defensive back, had two interceptions in the game, returning one 90 yards for a touchdown just before halftime that gave the Falcons a 22-7 lead at intermission. 

Robertson’s second INT set up Edelstein’s third quarter touchdown grab.

“A momentum changer,” Otero said of the pick six. “His ability is second to none. The kid is special. There are kids that are just special, and he’s one of them.”

Robertson looked at his interception return as a little pick-me-up for his team.

“Our morale was a little down at that point,” Robertson said. “And when I was running (toward the end zone), I was thinking about that and making that a turning point for our entire team.” 

Those game-changing plays by Robertson never get old for his Falcons teammates.

“Every single game you can expect something special out of him,” Barrett said. “He’s one of the best players, if not the best player, so it’s really great having him on our team.”

Horace Mann head coach Matt Russo only had praise in defeat for Robertson’s superb afternoon.

“Oh yeah that was a deflator, that pick six,” Russo said. “Being down just one touchdown at the half is much better. But it was the first ever varsity start for Brody, and he just kind of got locked in (on one receiver) and he made a mistake. And (Robertson) is just way too good of a player, and once he gets the ball in the open field, he’s trouble.”

The victory was a first step by Riverdale toward claiming their third straight King of the Hill crown. The Falcons will face Fieldston twice this season — on Oct. 14 and Nov. 4 — in search of their “Hill” trifecta. 

But for the Lions, it was a solid effort that has Russo seeing better things coming for his squad this season.

“I love my team,” Russo said. “I think this was a great learning experience. We had seven guys starting for the first time, and I think on-the-job learning is good. So yes, I love my team this year. Good kids.

Riverdale hosts Cardinal Spellman Saturday at 1:30 p.m., while Horace Mann entertains its other neighborhood rival, Fieldston, Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

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