Peglegs Finish with Pride

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The Stuyvesant Peglegs ended their season with a warm farewell to their seniors. Friday’s Homecoming game at Pier 40 saw a large crowd full of supporters showing their gratitude for the hard work the team had put in all season. With awards being given out and banners commemorating the seniors, the stage was set for a final season hoorah.

However, the game did not go as planned. While the Peglegs ended up losing in a blowout, senior kick returner Rafsan Hamid gave the crowd something to cheer for. Having already taken a commanding lead late in the first half of Stuyvesant’s own homecoming football game, Frederick Douglass Academy was kicking off yet again. It was a short boot this time, without much air under it. The ball struck the ground well short of Hamid and seemed to meander towards him, seemingly bouncing without any rhyme or reason. Hamid approached it gingerly, anticipating the ball’s next maneuver. As he went to pick it up, it grazed off of his fingertip and came to a stop at his feet.

It seemed like déjà vu: Stuyvesant had already lost one possession to a muffed kickoff in the first quarter, so another fumble would have been the nail in the coffin with the game rapidly spiraling out of control. However, as quickly as he had dropped the bouncing ball, Hamid recovered it, promptly turning upfield and heading down the right sideline. In a slick sequence of jukes, Hamid snuck past the cover men, with the last tumbling to the floor like a horse on rollerblades. At that point, he was running free. With nothing but daylight in front of him, Hamid burst into the endzone. On one play, a swift sequence of no more than 10 seconds, Hamid had changed the course of Stuyvesant’s homecoming game and had given the Peglegs life—or so it seemed.

The return was called back due to a penalty. In an instant, all the hope and thrill that Hamid’s moment of greatness had brought was gone and erased. The Peglegs never recovered after that. As it turned out, that touchdown would have been Stuyvesant’s only score of the night, as the match ended 42-0 in favor of Frederick Douglass Academy, which was a disappointing culmination to a disappointing 0-9 season.

Despite what the scoreboard and standings table indicate, however, the Peglegs still have plenty of reason for optimism. While the Peglegs were outmatched by fierce competition throughout the season, they learned the lesson of getting up after being knocked down and never giving up through it. Ultimately, that is an indicator of success. “I believe each of these athletes will benefit from the experiences and memories from this season, no matter how much [a] 0-for season might hurt now,” head coach Mark Strasser said.

The night was a fine commemoration of the cherished time the team spent playing and bonding together. Playing their last game in the chilly air and under the lights of the pier, each of the seniors celebrated the amazing journeys and team experiences. As senior and co-captain Rafsan Hamid enumerated, “We all love and support each other, and we grew into one big family. Even though we had a tough time this season, we had a lot of fun.”

Co-captain and running back Perry Wang was just as grateful for his time as a Pegleg. “Reflecting back, I can say with confidence that some of my fondest memories of high school have to be playing football under the lights on Friday,” he said. “I've grown tight with a group of brothers I know I'll stay close with 30, 40, 50 years down the line. It's been an amazing journey, and I don't regret anything.”

The team may continue to struggle into next season, as the losses of graduating players with key positions will be tough to overcome next year. The team will rely on its current juniors to step up and fill these voids. Replacing senior quarterback Rigneyla is an area of controversy. While his play was somewhat inconsistent, with a completion percentage and passer rating of just 45 and 46 percent, respectively, one must account for the variables around him. Stuyvesant’s pass protection has been porous all season, with the quarterback seeing penetration from multiple rushers, especially up the middle, on any given play. Thus, the Peglegs’ passing offense was mostly limited to quick-hitting screen passes, and, in that dreadfully limited environment, Rigneyla was still able to hold his own. Junior Aidan Griffin is expected to take over as the starting quarterback, but it remains to be seen whether he will have the ability to lead the team every Friday, as his 30% completion percentage in limited action does not inspire much confidence.

Furthermore, the Peglegs must also replace much of their offensive line, including tackle Michael Kaydin and guard Matthew Au. Kaydin is an especially notable loss, as he became a lynchpin at left tackle toward the end of the season. His long arms allowed him to beat rushers to the edge, keeping the respective blind sides of Rigneyla and Griffin relatively clean. Au is no slouch either and was a mauler in the run game, clearing the edge for Rigneyla and running backs Tahsin Ali and Perry Wang to pick up first downs on the ground.

However, as the sentiment of the team’s leaders this year shows, success to the Peglegs means far more than just dominance on the field. As coach Strasser suggested, “Teams are unfairly judged on records alone and not on actual performance, team culture, and improvement of the team from start to finish.” While the seniors may not be leaving next year’s team with a winning record, they hope to leave a positive impression on them. Wang’s advice to next year’s team members is “to cherish the time you have left. It disappears really fast and you have no idea where time went.” Through all of the team’s setbacks, including the ill-fated homecoming game, there was still a distinct pride and energy that wafted over Stuyvesant’s sideline. The way that the team erupted during Hamid’s kickoff return was electric and represented a winning culture in spite of a losing record.

While this year may not go down as the strongest for the Peglegs, there was more to this team than record implies. The Homecoming game showed the support the Stuyvesant community has for its team, and even though it got out of hand, the team battled throughout. Led with strong senior presence and overall dedication, this team played with resiliency and heart until the last snap of the season.