It was a tale of two halves.
And perhaps it was Sachem East's defensive success in the first half that made the second half, and more importantly the final minute of the game, a remote possibility. During the contest there were some missed opportunities, long drives, dominating time of possession. All of that was nearly forgotten when Ryan Dippel went up and got Danny Wolff's touchdown pass along the sideline of the endzone with nothing but zeros on the game clock.
It's nearly forgotten that the score was 14-7 at halftime, and that Sachem East's defense managed to hold Connetquot's high-scoring, big-play offense to just one touchdown in that 24 minute stretch. Also forgotten is that Sachem drew first blood on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Dippel after Sachem intercepted a Brian McKean pass. Who caught the deflected pass for the INT? Ryan Dippel.
After Connetquot tied the game at 7, it was Steven Casali's turn to weigh in, taking a handoff 13 yards into paydirt and putting Sachem back on top 14-7. The Flaming Arrows squandered a huge opportunity just before the half when they decided to go for it on 4th down inside the 10-yard line, instead of kicking a field goal to put them up 17-7. The conversion failed, and the half ended in a one-possession game.
Connetquot went on a bit of a run once the second half got underway, sticking to the very formula that earned them an 8-1 record this year: a steady dose of passing from Brian McKean, spreading the defense, and then getting the ball to Ryan Harvey who is nearly impossible to stop in the open field. Harvey ran for two consecutive scores, and gave Connetquot its first lead of the day at 21-14.
But Sachem answered back. On a perfectly designed and executed play, East lined up on 4th & 10, Danny Wolff dropped back, forced the T-Birds to commit and then threw across the field to a wide open David Foster. Foster turned and saw he had nothing but green in front of him, as he raced 20 yards for the tying score.
Connetquot answered back. On 3rd & 3, at their own 49, Ryan Harvey looked like he would be stopped right at the first down marker, but managed to squirt through two tackles and then won a foot race 51 yards to the endzone. It was 28-21 Connetquot with just over 5 minutes to go in the game.
Back came Sachem East, on the strong running game of Steven Casali, who finished the day with 237 yards and two touchdowns. Casali finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run that just broke the plane of the goal line with :51 left.
Decision time. Kick the extra point, or go for the win on a two-point conversion?
"I told Phil [Torregrosa] to go ask Fred [Fusaro, who was on the sidelines] what to do on the two-point play," Coach Mark Wojciechowski said after the game. "[Fred] said 'kick it," he recalled, laughing.
They went for it instead, deciding to rest its season on the player that got them there: Steve Casali. From the 3 yard line, Casali took the handoff up the middle and was stuffed at the 1. The Thunderbirds erupted. Players began to shout "Victory formation." 28-27 Connetquot. The game was over. Casali stood stunned at the 5 yard line as players ran over to console him.
"Listen, it's not over," Wojciechowski said of his team's psyche after getting stopped. "We still had a chance. If we didn't, when didn't get the two-point conversion, we just get back on the bus. Nobody got back on the bus."
Sachem East needed to execute a perfect onside kick, a play which still only has a success rating of less than 20% according to NFL statistics. No matter. The kick bobbled over to Sachem's sideline, and just before it bounced out of bounds, Brian Balsamo snatched it and went to the ground.
"Balsamo," Wojciechowski said. "Perfect hands. Perfect kick. We work on it twice a week, on Monday and on Friday, that's all. Good teams, in order to be great need breaks to go their way. That one went our way. [The kick] goes out of bounds, they win the game, and you're talking to them instead of talking to us."
It's a cliche to say "the rest is history." But the rest actually is history. Sachem East drove down the field from there. Got the benefit of a pass interference play that brought them from the 35 to the 20 yard line. Then: Ryan Dippel jumped up between two defenders, and in a flash framed by the setting sun, fell down into the endzone with the ball secured against his chest. The refs signaled touchdown. Dippel stood up, paused for a second, and then spun the ball onto the ground, just as his catch spun the tables of Sachem East's fortunes and sent them to the Suffolk County Championship game for the first time in the school's young history.
“I didn’t think, I just reacted," Dippel told The Sachem Report after supporters poured out onto the field. "I was in complete disbelief. I couldn’t believe I caught it. I’m at a loss for words right now.”
"It was a great game, great team, a great day," Wojciechowski said. [Connetquot] beat us by 40-whatever points last time, but we hung tough, they believed in themselves, and we did it today. We did it."
If you missed the game, or you want to watch it again to make sure it really happened, watch it here on MSG Varsity.