Joe Otero was understandably concerned about his quarterback situation heading into the season after Riverdale Country School’s long-time starter Ryan Rosenzweig graduated. But if last Saturday’s game is any indication, he need not worry about who his quarterback is.
New starter Harry Landis threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Falcons knocked off neighborhood-rival Horace Mann 32-14 in the season opener for both teams.
And Landis didn’t waste much time getting started.
After Horace Mann quarterback Brody McGuinn threw an interception on the Lions’ opening drive, the Falcons took that momentum and ran with it. On his first play from scrimmage, Landis threw a 30-yard pass to Jonathan Faber.
Two plays later, Landis found the end zone when he connected with Faber again on a 30-yard touchdown toss, and the Falcons never looked back.
“We knew (Landis-to-Faber) was going to be our strength this year,” Otero said. “We knew (Faber) was going to be a big player.”
And so is Landis.
Riverdale’s second drive ended just as the first, with Faber again finding the end zone on a 75-yard scoring strike from Landis for a 14-0 Falcons lead just four minutes into the game.
“I just love catching passes and scoring touchdowns,” Faber said. “I was going as hard as I could at the corners, sprinting down the field and (Landis) had some really nice throws to me all game long.”
For Riverdale, the story then shifted to cornerback/wide receiver Zach Gronfein. The two-way player helped the Falcons regain possession near the beginning of the second quarter with an interception that broke up what looked like the first promising scoring drive for Horace Mann.
“We were just locked in,” Gronfein said. “I knew everyone would do their job. I did my job, and that turns into turnovers.”
On the ensuing possession, Landis capped off an 80-yard drive by hitting a wide-open Gronfein for a 35-yard touchdown and a 22-0 Falcons lead.
“I think they weren’t ready for the speed of our receivers,” Landis said. “We took advantage of that early.”
Horace Mann wasn’t counting itself out yet, though.
Just as the first half was ticking away, McGuinn tossed a prayer into the end zone to wide receiver Charlie Sliberstein for what turned out to be the game’s most impressive haul. In remarkable fashion, Sliberstein pinned the ball against the back of the defender’s shoulder pads before coming down with the touchdown grab.
“I put it where (Sliberstein) could get it, and he did the rest,” McGuinn said. “It was great. It looked like he caught it with the other guy’s back. It was awesome.”
The play not only put Horace Mann on the scoreboard, but also provided some much needed momentum heading into the second half.
After forcing Riverdale to punt on its first possession after halftime, the Lions scored quickly on a 20-yard touchdown pass from McGuinn to Kelvin Smith to pull the Lions within a touchdown at 20-14.
“We came out with a lot of momentum in the third quarter, which was really good,” McGuinn said. “Everyone got really hyped up, and we started driving down the field. We were just running it down their throat.”
Following a Riverdale turnover, Horace Mann drove down the field again thanks to a string of Riverdale penalties and a strong Lions’ rushing attack. But just yards away from knotting the game at 20, McGuinn threw an interception in the end zone that was returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Riverdale’s Sam Lipin to help seal the win.
The Falcons added one final touchdown late in the fourth, on a short keeper up the middle by Landis to complete the scoring.
Otero was satisfied with his team’s performance.
“It was a big step for us,” he said. “We tried our best to go up on them, and we did. The third quarter was little rocky, but overall we did what we needed to do to win the game.”
Horace Mann looked at the loss as a building block for the rest of the season.
“It’s a great learning experience,” Russo said. “We had a lot of guys playing for the first time. So I just think, like anything else, we have to use this as a learning experience.”
Riverdale hosts Dalton on Saturday at 1 p.m., while Horace Mann entertains Fieldston on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.