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Andrew McKenna

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Patriots avenge 11-10 loss to Smithtown East in 2015 Class A finals

 

Being down 5-1 in the Suffolk County Class A finals didn’t scare the Patriots — it fueled them.

According to senior Eddie Munoz, Ward Melville coaches say lacrosse is a game of runs, and all the team needed was a run to get back in it.

So Ward Melville’s Zach Hobbes scored twice in a four-run spurt across the end of the first half and beginning of the second, and Munoz capped it off with an unassisted goal to tie the game, en route to a 9-8 win for Ward Melville over Smithtown East May 31.

“Down 5-1 is tough to come back from, but we made our run at the right time,” Munoz said. “And we didn’t stop.”

After senior Mike Marino scored off an assist from senior Mike Latini for Smithtown East, Munoz was quick to help tie it up again, when he scored his hat trick goal off a pass from Hobbes. Senior Dominic Pryor scored next off a feed from classmate Andrew Lockhart, but Smithtown East senior Connor DeSimone tied it up for
the Bulls.

DeSimone was held off the scoreboard besides one assist, thanks to Ward Melville senior Andrew McKenna, who was tasked with guarding one of Long Island’s leading goal scorers.

“I know he’s a very good player, but I’ve [gone up against] a lot of good players,” McKenna said. “He’s one of Long Island’s best, but knowing I have a great defense around me and a great goalkeeper behind me in Perry Cassidy made me all the more confident.”

Watching his defenseman lean in to help with a dodge on the next play, Munoz said he decided to step into it, hoping Pryor would find him with a pass. With little time to think, Munoz decided to send the ball to senior Noah Kepes, who finished his shot to put Ward Melville back on top, 8-7.

“When Dom passed the ball, I knew I was a little far out, so I took one glance at the crease in my windup, I saw Noah there and I couldn’t not pass it to him,” Munoz said. “It was a great catch, a great handle and a great finish.”

Senior Jack Purdy tacked on an empty netter for what the Patriots thought would be an insurance goal, but Smithtown East’s Dominic Pizzulli found the netting with 22.1 seconds left, and Ward Melville’s defense was able to hold the Bulls off after senior Brian Herber’s faceoff win.

“We were resilient,” McKenna said. “Down 5-1 we still went out there and competed, gave 100 percent on every play and played good, hard, smart lacrosse.”

He said it’s been a dream ever since he was a kid to make it to this point in his senior year with his longtime Patriots surrounding him, and they agreed.

“We needed to get back here,” Munoz said. “I couldn’t let us lose today. This is a dream come true.”

Ward Melville will play Massapequa in the Long Island Championship June 3 at 10 a.m. at Stony Brook University.

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Eddie Munoz makes his way through the defense as he gains yards. File photo by Bill Landon

The Ward Melville football team hasn’t played for a county championship in 29 years, so when the Patriots had the opportunity to, they weren’t going to let it slip away.

First, No. 5 Ward Melville shut out No. 4 Connetquot, 14-0, in the qualifying round, and on Nov. 11, the reseeded No. 4 Patriots upset previously undefeated No. 1 Lindenhurst, 27-10, to make it to the county finals Nov. 18. The team will take on No. 2 William Floyd at Stony Brook University at 7 p.m.

Wesley Manning tries to avoid a sack on a quarterback keep. File photo by Bill Landon
Wesley Manning tries to avoid a sack on a quarterback keep. File photo by Bill Landon

“It was a big win for the program,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “The defense played great throughout the game to keep it close, and the offense pulled away in the second half.”

Lindenhurst jumped out to a 10-0 lead on an 8-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter — just a few plays after Ward Melville fumbled a handoff on the opening possession — and a 21-yard field goal to start the second. The tide turned quickly after that for the Patriots.

Senior wide receiver Eddie Munoz caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Wesley Manning to close the gap to 10-6, though the extra-point kick attempt was blocked. The deficit was erased shortly following halftime.

“Beating the No. 1 seed is the best feeling,” Munoz said. “As a team, we can hold our heads high and be proud we took them down. We really prepared, watching film and scheming against their formations and play. We had mixed feelings — obviously everyone was a little nervous, but that’s part of the game. We were ready and excited.”

Manning and Munoz connected for another touchdown for the first score of the second half, on a 4-yard pass, and with senior kicker Joe LaRosa’s extra-point kick successful, the Patriots led 13-10 to open the final stanza.

“Scoring for my team was a great feeling and I couldn’t have done it without any of my teammates,” Munoz said. “I feel very comfortable catching [Wesley Manning’s] passes because I have great trust in every throw he makes, and he trusts that I will catch every pass he throws my way.”

“Playing on this historic team is something that I will never forget.”

— Eddie Munoz

He said the bond the two have was formed over the summer.

“We would go to training sessions together and go up to our home field and throw the ball around,” he said.

In the final 12 minutes, senior cornerback and wide receiver Andrew McKenna snatched a slant pass up the middle from Manning and took it to the house for a 61-yard touchdown to extend the cushion. With LaRosa’s kick good, Ward Melville went up 20-10.

“Andrew McKenna had a huge game for us, shutting down Division 1 recruit Jeremy Ruckert, and scoring a 61-yard touchdown off of a pass from Wesley Manning,” Boltrek said.

Senior wide receiver John Corpac capped off the scoring with a 90-yard run. The Patriots held the No. 1-seeded team scoreless in the second half.

“Playing on this historic team is something that I will never forget and something that I have enjoyed being a part of, and I can’t wait to play Friday with this team,” Munoz said. “I feel very confident and excited as we move into the finals, and I think that Ward Melville football can make history once again.”

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John Corpac wasted no time taking one to the house on homecoming game day.

The Ward Melville football team’s senior wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner knew if his team’s homecoming opponent, Patchogue-Medford, watched any film of his Patriots, they weren’t going to let him get his hands on the opening kickoff during their Sept. 24 contest.

“I was expecting a squib kick,” he said. “And that’s what I got.”

As the two teams collided on the opening play, Corpac picked up the ball, which the Raiders were trying to keep away from the dangerous return man, on the far right side of the field, jolted left to avoid a tackle, and, like running down an open highway, cruised all the way to the end zone for an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“I scooped the ball up, the hole was there and I only had to beat one guy,” Corpac said. “Kick returns are my favorite thing to do. It was the best feeling.”

The Ward Melville football team benefitted from a fast start during its homecoming matchup, but a strong finish proved the Patriots are ready to put up a fight this season. The team bested the Raiders 35-22 to avenge its 2015 homecoming loss.

“Last year Northport came in here and beat up a little bit on us — we lost — so for these seniors this was big for them,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “There were definitely some things that we have to clean up for the next game, but when we really needed them to step up the kids did a nice job.”

Patchogue-Medford mounted a charge up the field on its first drive following Corpac’s return touchdown, and bulled into the end zone on a 1-yard run to even the score.

“Last year Northport came in here and beat up a little bit on us — we lost — so for these seniors this was big for them.”

— Chris Bolterk

Ward Melville responded by moving the ball on its next possession, but a fumble recovered by Patchogue-Medford changed the tide. The Patriots’ defense made up for its offenses mistake, and forced Patchogue-Medford to settle for a field goal attempt, which was missed.

To open the second quarter, Ward Melville wide receiver and strong safety Eddie Munoz, who also recorded an interception, received a 29-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Wesley Manning. Munoz helped set up the score with gains of 28 yards and four yards earlier in the drive.

Manning tossed his next touchdown pass to junior running back Nick Messina. The play wouldn’t have been possible without senior cornerback and wide receiver Andrew McKenna’s second interception of the game. He also chipped in 35 yards on the ensuing drive. Messina’s 13-yard catch and senior kicker Joe LaRosa’s point after brought the score to 21-7 before halftime.

“Our special teams was excellent, our defense really came up big causing a lot of turnovers in key moments,” Boltrek said. “And offensively we did some nice things. When we got nice blocks and we scored, we threw the ball well, so there was some good and some bad, but we have to improve.”

Patchogue-Medford added seven points following another 1-yard run with 20 seconds to go in the third to pull closer, but Messina rushed the ball 52 yards for a touchdown with 6.5 seconds on the clock to re-extend the Patriots’ advantage.

Shortly into the final stanza, Messina rushed home another touchdown, this time taking the ball 22 yards to help his team jump out in front, 35-14.

“On those few plays the line did exactly what they needed to do,” Messina said. “If we could do that more often we could go far, and score more touchdowns.”

Boltrek said his team needs to clean up the blocking up front going forward, though he was impressed with his running back’s performance.

“Nick is a kid we all depend on because of his speed and his athleticism, and it’s warranted,” Boltrek said. “He had two breakaway touchdowns, he did a nice job catching along the backfield, so he did really well for us.”

Manning completed 15 of 22 passes for 240 yards, including two touchdowns. He said all the players were confident coming into the homecoming game after a strong week of practice. He said he enjoyed showing the team could get the job done through the air, and in the second half, on the ground, too.

“The feeling kept getting better and better as the game went on,” he said. “It’s great to win on your senior homecoming. There’s really nothing better. I think we’re really going to carry on momentum. We had a tough loss against Longwood and now we just have to keep the momentum going next week against Floyd.”

Ward Melville travels to William Floyd Oct. 1 for a 2 p.m. kickoff.

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