MECHANICVILLE — Matt Conlin’s Twitter handle is GCSFR8TRAIN.
His Freight Train nickname was bestowed on him in sixth grade.
“In Greenwich, everyone gets a nickname,” Greenwich head football coach Brandon Linnett has said on more than one occasion.
Such is life in a small town.
On Friday night, Conlin not only lived up to the moniker, he helped carry the Witches — and in a way, the whole town — to a huge Class D state quarterfinal victory Friday night.
Conlin crashed through the Tuckahoe defense for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries as undefeated Greenwich pulled away to a 41-20 win over Tuckahoe at Mechanicville High School.
“It starts with Matthew,” said senior quarterback Jesse Kuzmich, who had his own hand in the win, running for two scores and passing for two more. “If we can get him going, and they try to stop him, it opens up everyone else. He’s the key to everything.”
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Greenwich, which improved to 11-0 with its 17th consecutive victory, is set to face Section VII champ Moriah on Friday at 3 p.m. at Middletown High School.
A year after not having a state playoff at all — Greenwich was a dominant 6-0 during the Fall II season last spring — the significance of being one step win from the Carrier Dome is not lost on the Witches.
“It means a lot for everyone — the community, the school,” Kuzmich said. “These chances don’t come often. I think we have the team to get the job done.”
“It’s amazing,” Conlin said. “Not getting it last year kind of drove us even harder this year.”
But the Witches were holding their collective breath early in the third quarter, after Tuckahoe (8-2) had pulled within 21-20 on a too-easy touchdown pass from Jax Colacicco to Jake Matarazzo.
Greenwich responded with a 60-yard scoring drive, with Kuzmich converting two fourth downs on option runs. Then he gave the ball to Conlin, who blasted for runs of 28, 8 and 3 yards, the last his final burst into the end zone for a 27-20 lead with 4:12 left in the period.
After forcing the Tigers to go three-and-out, the Witches drove 68 yards in 11 plays — including seven runs by Conlin — on a drive capped by Kuzmich’s 20-yard sprint around left end for the score early in the fourth.
“Our team just kind of sucked it up and found a way,” Linnett said. “Matt powered us a little bit, the offensive line got their feet under them, Jesse had some timely pulls for the option to get big plays, and we found a way to win a game.”
“The line was doing a great job, especially on the power, guard pulling, taking out that last guy — just like last week,” Conlin said. “Got me an extra 5 yards on every single carry before contact. And Kooz being able to pull it when the defense gets there and take it for another 20 yards — just unstoppable.”
A bad snap gave Greenwich the ball right back. With Conlin banged up and exhausted on the sideline, the Witches proceeded to burn the clock behind Jayden Hughes. Hughes (11 rushes, 49 yards) carried the ball on almost all of the Witches plays on their final two possessions.
“Jayden’s an all-around player — he’s a utility man who can play anywhere,” Linnett said of the big senior fullback. “He’s actually probably our sixth offensive lineman — if somebody went down, he’d put a lineman number on. He’s that valuable. He probably doesn’t know how valuable he is, but he does a great job everywhere we put him.”
Kuzmich capped off the win with a 14-yard scoring pass to Tyler Day in the final seconds. Kuzmich completed 4 of 8 passes for 58 yards, and ran 10 times for 73 more.
An action-packed first half saw Greenwich take a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter on Kuzmich’s 21-yard scoring strike to Deontae Bennett. The Witches got the ball back on an interception by Parker Jamieson, setting up Conlin’s 63-yard touchdown run.
Tuckahoe closed within 21-14 before halftime on a 1-yard touchdown by Mike Meyers, who finished with 91 yards on 20 carries.
“We didn’t expect to have to play that much run defense overall — we thought they would throw more, from their film,” Linnett said. “We just tightened it up, we put eight, nine in the box like everyone else would — (Meyers) was carving us up there for a while.”