Devante Wheeler collapsed to the turf in pain and then limped to the Poly Prep sideline. The Blue Devils were without their quarterback and defensive back, but Sean Ryan wasn’t worried.
“I’ve seen him cramp up plenty of times since sophomore year,” the senior two-way lineman said.
With Wheeler out of the game, quarterback Cole Marcoux scored on a 9-yard keeper to bring Fieldston back to within two touchdowns. Momentum had switched to the visitors, until the ensuing kickoff. Wheeler returned to run it back 75 yards for a pivotal touchdown to lift Poly Prep to a 41-14 win against the Eagles on Thursday night in Bay Ridge.
“I preach to the team all the time, put the dagger in, finish teams off, finish strong and don’t get too lax,” said Wheeler, who has drawn interest from Maryland, Rutgers, Richmond and Boston College. “I had to come out and make a big play. One play could change the whole game so I had to go out and make that play.”
Poly, the No. 1 team in The Post’s New York City top 10, cruised from that point in a rare local clash for a team that plays a national independent schedule.
“It definitely brings the energy up,” Ryan said of playing Fieldston. “You could tell just in pre-game warm-ups they came out all fired up, ready to play and so were we. It adds a new level of excitement to it.”
While Poly and Fieldston have a healthy rivalry in every other sport, they rarely meet on the football field. But that changed when the Peddie School (N.J.) backed out of a scheduled game, which left Poly coach Dino Mangiero scrambling for an opponent.
“I made 5,000 phone calls and Gus found out and asked if we wanted to play,” Mangiero said of Fieldston coach Gus Orenstien. “I didn’t have any choice. We decided to play the game and I’m glad we did because they’re real good.”
That’s what Wheeler heard in the days leading up to the game, with Eagles players promising an upset.
“They said they were Appalachian State and we were Michigan,” Wheeler said, referring to the Mountaineers’ stunning win at Michigan in 2007. “I had to give them a little something back. I don’t like to talk a lot of smack, but I just came out and performed. I did what I had to do.”
So did Ashton Ghaffaar. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound power back rushed for 114 yards on 12 carries, scoring a 16-yard TD to put the Blue Devils in front 34-7 late in the third quarter. His best run, though, a 91-yard touchdown scamper, was called back because of a holding call.
“Things like that happen,” said Ghaffaar, who is being recruited by Syracuse, Fordham, Rutgers and Hofstra. “My O-line did a great job the whole game so I wasn’t even mad. It’s fine.”
Wheeler added a 14-yard keeper and was 4-of-9 for 111 yards and sophomore Faton Bauta scored a pair of touchdowns, including punching the ball in from the 1-yard line with 16.7 seconds left in the first half to give the Blue Devils a 21-0 halftime lead.
“I think we have the best backfield in New York City,” Ghaffaar said. “We’re a real triple threat and our offensive line does a great job every game. That’s where it starts.”
Even sophomore Michael Bernardez, who came in for Ghaffaar midway through the third quarter, rushed for 79 yards on 15 carries and a 5-yard touchdown.
“It took us a while to figure them out,” Mangiero said. “They were in a real unorthodox defense in the beginning. They had three linemen and six linebackers and they were running all over the place. Once we had them figured out, I didn’t think they could stop the run. That’s what the game came down to.”
In a rare loss for Fieldston, Marcoux was 16-for-31 for 134 yards, but he threw a pair of interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback scored on a 9-yard touchdown run and Zach Brown added a 23-yard rushing score midway through the fourth quarter.
Fresh off an emotional win against Fieldston, Wheeler said he’s got tickets for the Syracuse-Northwestern game, as well as the Delaware-Delaware State game this weekend.
But he isn’t going anywhere.
“I’m just going to enjoy this win, relax and get ready for a tough team in Wyoming Seminary next week,” Wheeler said.