NEW CANAN -- After squandering an early two-touchdown lead and losing starting quarterback Charlie Nelson to a concussion, St. Luke's outlook seemed bleak as its homecoming clash with Rye Country Day entered the fourth quarter.
That's when backup quarterback Noel Thomas took over to will his team to a 26-20 victory.
With the game knotted at 20-20 and six minutes remaining, Thomas led the Storm on a 12-play, 57-yard drive to take a 26-20 lead after the two-point conversion failed. On fourth-and-six at the Rye 17, Thomas found Bryan Latarocca on a crossing pattern over the middle, and the junior wideout hauled in the reception and made it to the one-yard line.
Two plays later, Thomas dove into the end zone on a keeper to give his team the lead with 1:56 remaining. The drive was also helped by a seven-yard run by Thomas, during which he hurdled over a Rye defender to get the first down.
"I knew I was going to have to be an athlete out there and take what I can get. I'm not a quarterback, so I just basically had to be an athlete," Thomas said. "I had to do whatever I had to do."
On its ensuing possession, Rye moved the ball to its own 36 on an 11-yard completion from quarterback Raishaun McGhee to wideout Tyler Fernandez. On the next play, however, McGhee was intercepted by Latarocca.
Rye got the ball back on its own 16 with eight seconds left, but could gain only 12 yards before a lateral attempt went out of bounds.
It was the first time St. Luke's scored a win over Rye in 10 years.
"These guys are mentally tough, they're a family and they have the resilience to overcome a challenge," said St. Luke's coach Noel Thomas, who watched his son enter as the backup quarterback and lead the undefeated Storm to victory. "It was more mental because it's Rye. Let's be honest; we haven't beaten them in 10 years and it's a mental edge that is finally in our rearview mirror."
On the opening possession of the game, St. Luke's drove 58 yards in six played, capped by a nine-yard bootleg by Nelson. St. Luke's doubled its lead on its next possession when Myles Gaines ended a five-play, 50-yard drive by diving into the end zone a 15-yard touchdown run.
Rye's answer was a five-play, 54-yard drive, culminating when McGhee hit a wide open James McPhail for a 27-yard touchdown, cutting its deficit to 14-6 after a missed extra point.
On St. Luke's next possession, a fumble was scooped up by McGhee, who raced 55 yards to the end zone to creep closer at 14-12 after a missed two-point attempt.
St. Luke's took momentum back on the final play of the first half, a 35-yard touchdown strike from Nelson to Blake Stroman and a 20-12 advantage.
"That was probably the best throw I've seen No. 2 make," coach Thomas said. "It was over a taller defender, it was amazing and I can't wait to go back and watch it on film. Without that, we could have been in trouble."
Rye knotted the game at 20-20 on its first possession of the second half when Fernandez swept seven yards for a touchdown, and McGhee found Tyler Miller for the two-point conversion.
Nelson wasn't the only injury for St. Luke's, which was also without freshman lineman B.J. Buckle, who was taken off on a stretcher with a neck injury as a precaution.
"(The injuries) kind of brought us together a little more," Thomas said. "God bless those guys. Those guys are strong guys. We kind of just rallied after that and came together. It's been 10 years, so it's everything."
"B.J. has a neck injury," coach Thomas said. "They're being very cautious taking him out that way, and I think he's going to be fine."
St. Luke's 26, Rye 20
RYE COUNTY DAY 6 6 8 0--20
ST. LUKE'S 14 6 0 6--26
S--Charlie Nelson, 9 run (Peter Baritz kick)
S--Myles Gaines, 15 run (Baritz kick)
R--James McPhail, 27 pass from Rishaun McGhee (kick failed)
R--McGhee, 55 fumble return (pass failed)
S--Blake Stroman, 35 pass from Nelson (kick failed)
R--Tyler Fernandez, 7 run (Tyler Miller pass from McGheen)
S--Noel Thomas, 1 run (pass failed)
Records: St. Luke's 6-0, Rye County Day 2-3.