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Eddie Munoz

By Bill Landon

A late Long Island-hit drew a penalty, leaving New York City with an even bigger advantage with two seconds left on the clock in the 22nd annual Empire Challenge football game. Monsignor Farrell kicker Paul Inzerillo tried to draw Long Island offsides without success, but just ahead of a delay of game flag, sent the ball flying as the clock ran down to zero, and nailed the 32-yard field goal attempt to snatch a second straight NYC victory, 37-35, from Long Island. The June 21 loss marks the second year in a row Long Island lost in dramatic fashion at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium.

“That penalty hurt us,” Elwood John Glenn wide receiver Damien Caffrey said. “But to play in this game is a dream come true.”

“That penalty hurt us, but to play in this game is a dream come true.

—Damian Caffrey

A Long Island interception led to NYC’s first touchdown of the game, with four minutes left in the opening quarter. But Ward Melville senior John Corpac received a pass from Long Island quarterback Aaron Ruthman, of Elmont, and bolted down the right sideline for the touchdown. Christian Carrick added the extra point to tie the game, 7-7.

NYC took the lead with the team’s second touchdown of the game, but the kick failed, and left Long Island with a chance to pull ahead. Ward Melville wide receiver Dominic Pryor, already looking comfortable on his new field, where he will instead though play lacrosse next year, was found twice for big yardage. The first connection was for 18 yards to NYC’s 40-yard line and the second, was for 28 yards to the 5. Two plays later, Farmingdale running back Jordan McLune took advantage of that opportunity by capping of a six-play, 58-yard drive, and Carrick’s kick gave Long Island the lead, 14-13, with 7:14 left in the first half.

Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived as NYC scored another touchdown, put the 2-point conversion play failed.

“It’s tough to come out and play football in June, but I was so motivated to come out here and play with such great athletes, and play my hardest,” Pryor said. “[NYC is] just a hard-nose team with great athletes.”

It looked like a Ward Melville football game from there on out though, as Pryor, who caught give passes for 89 and two touchdowns, scored his first on a 24-yard pass from Elmont quarterback Aaron Rutgman on fourth-and-seven.

Pryor got the call again on the next score, as the Ruthman-Pryor tag-team connected on a 17-yard pass. Carrick’s kick lifted Long Island to a 28-19 advantage.

“[This game] it’s just something that I’m blessed to be in,” Pryor said. “It’s a great event with everything that it stands for, and I’m glad to be a part of it.” Prior to Wednesday’s game, no Patriots had played in the Empire Challenge. With cornerback Eddie Munoz also on the field, it put not two, but three Patriots in the Empire Challenge for the first time.

“[This game] it’s just something that I’m blessed to be in. It’s a great event with everything that it stands for.”

—Dominic Pryor

But New York, held to 17 yards in the second half until midway through the fourth quarter, exploded for a five-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 45-yard touchdown from Christian Anderson to Seba Nekhet. The PAT made it 28-26 with seven minutes left in regulation. NYC’s defense forced Long Island to punt from deep in its own end and the city took advantage of the favorable field position to score on Siddiq Muhamad’s 12-yard run that made it 34-26. The special teams completed a 2-point conversion that brought the score to 36-28.

Corpac continued the strong Ward Melville showing as he handled another punt return 83 yards, going coast-to-coast to tie the game.

“I was telling my teammates on the sidelines: ‘I gotta take this one back,’” Corpac said. “’I got to do it.’ And sure enough, I saw the hole and I took it.”

Carrick, who was perfect on the evening, put Long Island ahead with 2:44 left in the final quarter.

NYC threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock, and got a gift when Long Island was flagged for a late hit. The 15-yard penalty brought NYC to Long Island’s 22-yard line.

“I was scared leading by a point with eight seconds left,” Caffrey said. “It was pretty crazy, because their offense is really good. They brought it to a whole new level.”

Corpac, who is bound for Stony Brook University’s football team in the fall, echoed his longtime teammate-s sentiment of the significance of the Empire Challenge.

“[To play in this game] — it’s a great honor,” he said. “It’s the best way I could ask to end my high school football career.”

Teammates Dylan Pallonetti, Matt Grillo and Dominic Pryor swarm Eddie Munoz in celebration of one of his three straight goals that put Ward Melville back in the game. Photo from Matt Grillo

It was a special game the Patriots, or anyone who follows the program, won’t soon forget.

Matt Grilllo hoists up the state championship plaque after scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals on his birthday June 10. Photo from Matt Grillo

In a come-from-behind rally, the Ward Melville boys lacrosse team scored six straight goals — five during regulation and one in sudden death overtime — to claim the program’s first Class A state championship title since 2013 with a 10-9 win over Pittsford. In the final minute of regulation, senior Eddie Munoz scored three straight, and Matt Grillo tied it, then scored the game-winner on a solo dodge from behind the cage with one second left in overtime, during the June 10 game at St. John Fisher College.

It was the ninth state title for Ward Melville (20-2), which finished the 2017 season on a 15-game win streak, and the first for head coach Jay Negus, who took over the program when Mike Hoppey retired following the 2013 title. Hall of Fame coach Joe Cuozzo won the first seven.

“We’ve joked around all year long saying we’re the ‘comeback kids’ because we had a great second-half performance in each game we played, but that was a little too close for me,” Negus said, laughing. “We do what we have to do. Eddie [Munoz] is our emotional senior leader and he took over the game, he took over the locker room. He has the ability to rally and lead people to a place you can’t get to yourself. He got us to where we needed to be.”

For Grillo, who was also celebrating his birthday, those last minutes made for a dramatic day with extreme swings of emotion.

“This is the best birthday present I could ask for,” he said. “It went from the worst birthday of my life to the best birthday of my life within 53 seconds.”

Eddie Munoz and Matt Grillo celebrate Ward Melville’s come-from-behind win over PIttsford for the Class A state championship title. Photo from Matt Grillo

Ward Melville was trailing 9-4 with 3:43 left to play when Grillo received a pass from senior Liam Davenport to close the gap. Junior faceoff specialist Michael Giaquinto, who won 19 of 22 faceoffs, won the ensuing battle at the ‘X,” and every one thereafter down the stretch.

“At that point, there was no margin for error,” Giaquinto said. “I knew I had to win them all.”

With 1:01 remaining, after already having a shot saved at the 1:29 mark and following a Patriots timeout call, Munoz began his hat trick streak over a 34.4 second span.

“My teammates made great plays, and I felt, being a captain, that I owed my teammates a service,” Munoz said. “I told them I wasn’t going to let them lose.”

He scored his first goal on a sidearm shot, tallied a man-up goal on a feed from Grillo after a Pittsford slash call with 34 seconds left, and after a Giaquinto faceoff win and pass down the alley, scored his third 7.4 seconds later, to pull the Patriots within one, 9-8.

“The goals were all reacting to the situation,” Munoz said. “It was the heat of the moment and I saw my chances and took them. It feels amazing to pull through for my team, but I give all the credit to my teammates for supporting me all year and for setting up those plays.”

He agreed with his head coach, who said his Patriots never counted themselves out, having preached all season about never giving up, and knowing Ward Melville has always been more of a second-half team.

Matt Grillo hugs his family following the victory. Photo from Matt Grillo

“It was honestly scary, I was a little nervous at first, but we stayed poised, kept our composure and played hard until the final whistle,” Munoz said, “And now we’re champions, so it paid off.”

Giaquinto kept the ball rolling with another faceoff win, and after one errant shot, Grillo got open and converted a pass from senior Andrew Lockhart to tie the game with just eight seconds left.

Lockhart said they were running his play — called “22 Pop” for his jersey number and eventual position shift.

“I popped, they collapsed,” he said. “I dropped it off to Grillo, who of course finished it. It’s something we’ve done all season. But without Mike Giaquinto, we would have lost the game. Faceoffs never get credit, but that kid put the team on his back.”

Early in overtime, after a long Ward Melville possession, goalkeeper Gavin Catalano (11 saves) made a stop on Munoz and the Panthers (19-2) headed the other way. They had a clean look, but Ward Melville’s senior goalkeeper Perry Cassidy made his best and most important save to give Ward Melville the ball one more time. Munoz shot it wide, putting the ball in Grillo’s stick on the restart.

“In the moment, I wasn’t thinking,” Grillo said. “Coach called a play, and I didn’t think there was enough time for it. I saw that there was no slide, and I got to the cage and finished. It was the most amazing moment of my life. So many emotions were running through my mind at that moment. It’s something that I will never forget.”

Ward Melville’s boys lacrosse team scored six striaght goals to pull away witha 10-9 overtime win over Pittsford for the program’s first state championship since 2013. Photo from Matt Grillo

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Patriots power through Massapequa for second straight Long Island title

Call him Perry the protector.

In the final three minutes of the third quarter, with Ward Melville’s boys’ lacrosse team up 5-4 over Nassau County champion Massapequa, Perry Cassidy made three saves, and opened the fourth quarter with another, before his team scored three goals in three minutes en route to an 8-5 Class A Long Island championship victory. The Long Island championship win for Ward Melville was its second straight and 18th in program history.

“I was trying to do anything to keep our team in it,” said Cassidy of his back-to-back-to-back saves on the left corner to end the third. He made 10 stops in the win. “I didn’t want to go home not being able to play with my brothers again.”

At the 6:14 mark of the stanza, senior Andrew Lockhart put the Patriots ahead for the first time, 5-4, when he cut to the crease and received a backdoor pass from sophomore Dylan Pallonetti.

“We talked about it,” Pallonetti said of connecting with Lockhart. “We said we were going to watch each other on the crease, and back-doored them two times, and got them.”

Pallonetti also assisted on Lockhart’s game-tying behind-the-back goal at the 6:38 mark of the second quarter, to knot things up 3-3.

“I love playing with Dylan, he’s a great player and we have great chemistry,” Lockhart said. “He did all the work — gave me the ball where he knew I could shoot and score.”

Up to that point, Ward Melville had been playing catch up, with Pallonetti and senior Zach Hobbes (three goals) scoring the first two goals to tie the game at 2-2 to end the first quarter. Hobbes had another tying goal with 9:21 left in the first half, to make the score 4-all.

Ward Melville knew it was only a matter of time before a high-powered Massapequa offense would make another move. But Cassidy was up to the task.

“I always have the best shooters trying to score on me during warm-ups,” Cassidy said. “I felt good.”

He said the sideline chants and cheers motivated him to keep protecting the cage, along with the motivation to remain on the playoff ride for as long as possible. Lockhart said it was the saves that fueled a three-goal run from the 10-minute to six-minute mark of the fourth, with the game-winner coming off the first of those goals, from senior Liam Davenport with 9:41 left to play.

“Perry stood on his head like he’s been doing all season,” Lockhart said. “He kept us in the game, which got us pumped for our second-half run.”

He added that for him, being able to put on the practice pinnie on Monday was all the motivation he needed.

“All of us seniors have been talking about this moment since we were kids,” Lockhart said. “And we’re dictating the terms to our opponents.”

Ward Melville will prepare for the Class A state semifinals at the University at Albany June 7 at 4 p.m. But Cassidy said the team doesn’t need a run-through.

“We’re ready,” he said.

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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.

Ward Melville to face Smithtown East in Suffolk championship May 31

As the crowd and sideline erupted over a stretch of three minutes in the third quarter, it seemed like the Patriots couldn’t miss.

In fact, they didn’t, as the Ward Melville’s boys’ lacrosse team scored six times on six shots during that span, on the way to a 15-6 Class A semifinal win over Half Hollow Hills East May 25.

“We’ve been here before, and we were pumped up,” junior Zach Hobbes said. “We knew we had to come out fired up, because there was a chance we were going to go home.”

An early ouster from the playoffs seemed like a remote possibility coming into the game for two-loss Ward Melville, after Hills East gave the Patriots all they could handle in a triple overtime, 8-7 thriller during the regular season, but the second-half scoring spurt erased that possibility. Hobbes found the back of the net for the first of the six goals, which was his third of the game. Junior Matt Grillo scored twice to complete his hat trick, and junior Michael Giaquinto also scored twice, directly off faceoff wins.

“We played more unselfish,” Grillo said. “Last time we played them, we had a lot of individuals doing their stuff, and this time we looked for the open man, and it worked.”

The Patriots were riding a 6-2 halftime advantage into that 6-0 run. The last goal of the second quarter fired up Grillo and senior Eddie Munoz, inspiring the team to come out even quicker after the break.

Grillo intercepted a Hills East pass attempt by the goalkeeper, and with Kyle Bockelman outside of his posts, Grillo saw the opportunity at an empty-netter with Munoz at his side.

“I saw the rusty pass and I ran over to pick it off,” Grillo said. “Eddie’s always there to put it in, and I knew he was going to finish.”

Giaquinto, who split 10 faceoffs in the first half, won seven of eight in the third, and got lower on the draw to help him win 18 of 25 faceoffs overall in the game.

“I give Michael Giaquinto a lot of credit,” Hobbes said. “Those possessions were key.”

Munoz said his teammates have been hearing all season long how they’re the next resilient bunch to vie for the state championship, and he said he knew the next step toward getting back to where the Patriots were last year wasn’t too far out of reach.

“To be so close to another county championship — we needed to win,” he said. “Our drive is what got us here, and our confidence is through the roof, but you can’t be too cocky. We’re soaking it in, enjoying the moment, but once we get on that bus — get back to the school — we have work to do. It’s all about staying focused.”

Ward Melville will face Smithtown East May 31 at Stony Brook University at 3 p.m. with a chance for redemption. The Bulls halted the Patriots’ playoff push two years ago, with an 11-10 county final victory.

“We feel we have a standard to uphold at Ward Melville,” Hobbes said. “We need to get back to where we were last year, and take that title this time. We’re ready to play.”

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Dylan Pallonetti moves the ball around the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville’s boys’ lacrosse team suffered a stinging defeat to end their season- opening four-game winning streak against rival Chaminade April 8, dropping the tough nonleague battle 7-5.

“We didn’t play as best as we could against Chaminade,” senior attack Jack Purdy said, adding that despite the Patriots’ 9-5 bounce-back win over West Islip April 10, to increase the team’s League I win streak to five, more work still needs to be done. “We’re still trying to look for the best game possible. We’re still looking to fire on all cylinders on defense, offense and faceoffs.”

Zach Hobbes challenges a West Islip defender as he moves the ball toward the net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

In the first half of the win over West Islip, junior attack Matt Grillo had his fingerprints all over the game. He scored the first goal of the game, assisted senior midfielder Eddie Munoz on the next, and found the back of the cage off a feed from sophomore attack Dylan Pallonetti later.

“We prepared by watching film on West Islip and looking for their plays and certain techniques they use on the field, and how to counter those techniques,” Munoz said of his team’s readiness. “But it was so close in the first half.”

West Islip came back to tie it, 3-3, but Grillo scored an unassisted goal for a hat trick with three seconds left in the first half.

“I think both of our faceoff guys did very well and so did our goalie,” Munoz said. “I think as a whole we played for each other and gave great effort.”

Matt Grillo and Dom Pryor celebrate a goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville came out firing from the opening minutes of the second half, and at the 10:51 mark, a Perry Cassidy save, one of the senior’s 10 for the game, sparked junior midfielder Zach Hobbes’ unassisted goal. He bulled his way up the middle between two defenders to the front of the cage to extend the lead. Minutes later, Pallonetti scooped up a Grillo rebound and gave his team a 6-3 advantage. Cassidy ended the quarter with a save to preserve the third-quarter shutout.

“It felt good to dominate a little bit,” Munoz said of the second half.

Senior midfielder Dominic Pryor was next to get on the scoreboard. Catching West Islip off guard, he saw the open lane, and instead of passing, made his way toward the cage and fired away.

“It was great to seal the win in the second half against a team that’s more than capable of coming back when they are down,” Pryor said. “My team was able to focus on possessions in the second half, and overall playing team offense and defense, not relying on any individual. The chemistry this team has is very special and I think that will continue and grow throughout the year.”

Purdy had a hand on the next two goals, assisting Pallonetti, who had an open look after Purdy skipped passing to the middleman.

Jack Purdy passes from behind the goal to Dylan Pallonetti, who scores on the skip pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I knew he was open,” Purdy said of Pallonetti. “He did a good job of reading the defense and getting in the right position. I gave it to him, and he took a good shot to the top left.”

Despite West Islip finally breaking through in the second half, with back-to-back goals with four minutes remaining, Purdy helped stabilize the game. He passed from behind the cage to Munoz at the front of the net for the final goal of the game.

“Eddie Munoz made a good shot right in front of the crease that saved me,” Purdy said. “It wasn’t the best pass, but a good goal.”

The senior attack said he hopes his team can continue to work on coming out strong, to be able to keep a new streak running through the remainder of the season.

“We need to step it up a little bit in the first half,” Purdy said. “We let up a few goals that we shouldn’t have, and we need to hold onto the ball better on offense, move it around and get better shots. We try to get out and score, put a bunch of goals in, dodge hard and look for the open seams in the defense. Coach said when we play to our best abilities we can win any given game on the schedule.”

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John Corpac. File photo by Bill Landon

In 21 years, not one Ward Melville football player has been invited to compete in the Empire Challenge. This year three Patriots will get the chance to put on the pads one more time.

John Corpac, Eddie Munoz and Dominic Pryor were chosen by the coaches of the Long Island team, all of which led their squads to county titles this year, to play in the game that pits Long Island all-stars against the best of New York City.

“It feels amazing knowing I’ll be able to suit up once more in a sport that I’ve loved since I was young,” Pryor said. “I couldn’t be more proud to represent Ward Melville, especially after what we accomplished this season.”

Dominic Pryor. File photo by Bill Landon

The three standouts were part of a Patriots team that upset No. 1 Lindenhurst in the Division I semifinals to make it to the county championship for the first time in 30 years.

“After losing in counties,” Corpac said, “this game is a redemption game for me and my teammates that made it, to show that we belonged where we were.”

Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said his three athletes, who were named All-State by the New York State Sportswriters Association, don’t need redemption, because they’ve shown they belong among the best of the best.

“They are just excellent athletes who love football, and combined those attributes with a willingness to go the extra mile — whether it was sacrificing their bodies and taking a big hit, or tackling a larger athlete, it didn’t matter — they laid it all on the line to help our team be successful,” he said. “And they’re a huge part of why we made it to the county championship this season.”

Corpac, a wide receiver and free safety who signed to play for Stony Brook University this fall, finished last season with a team-high 13 touchdowns through 11 games, four of which were on kickoff returns. The All-County and All-State honoree racked up 378 yards on 27 receptions, and rushed for 131 more and one touchdown. In total, he had 1,110 yards thanks to 532 added kickoff return yards. On the defensive side of the ball, Corpac had 58 tackles, 38 solo, and two interceptions.

While Munoz and Pryor will be playing lacrosse next year, at Stony Brook and Hofstra University, respectively, the two have also battled for big numbers at Ward Melville.

Munoz gained 454 yards on 37 receptions as a wide receiver, and rushed for 90, ending the year with eight touchdowns. He intercepted the ball twice as a strong safety, and made 57 total tackles, 37 solo.

“We put in a lot of hard work, but our teammates also helped us stand out, because without a good team we wouldn’t have been selected,” Munoz said. “Football to me is all about being tough and giving it your all on every play.”

Eddie Munoz. File photo by Bill Landon

Pryor ended his senior season with a team-high 604 receiving yards, averaging a team-high 16.3 yards per catch on his 37 receptions, rushed for 88 yards, returned kickoffs for 111 and even passed for 167. The wide receiver and defensive back also had two interceptions and made 28 tackles.

“Dom and Eddie are great examples of multi-sport athletes, and demonstrate how competing in multiple sports is a benefit,” Boltrek said. “Both of those guys have played on big stages before in lacrosse, and it was evident that those experiences paid dividends for us throughout the playoffs. I know them playing football has made them better lacrosse players. The toughness and grit that it takes to be successful in football is visible every time they step on the lacrosse field.”

Pryor credits his coaches and teammates, and playing in one of the toughest leagues on Long Island, for making him a better athlete day in and day out, but his head coach said it’s all about what the boys do.

“It’s great for the program to get this sort of recognition, but of course, the program doesn’t receive these honors without the individual efforts of these three players,” he said. “It’s no coincidence that all three of them started in all three facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams — and no matter who the opponent was, they had to game plan for these three.”

New York City opponents will have to make big plans to take down the trio, who said they have been best friends since elementary school. They’ll battle on the gridiron at Hofstra University June 21 at 7 p.m.

“I was hearing rumors that I might get selected, but once I actually got the news, I couldn’t be happier — it’s a dream to be able to play in this game,” Corpac said. “This sport is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’d do anything to play the season all over again. I cannot wait to put on the pads and play high school football one last time.”

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Nick Messina rushes the ball upfield. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The No. 4-seeded Ward Melville football team had waited 30 years for another Suffolk County championship appearance, and despite a tough loss to No. 2 William Floyd Nov. 18, 28-21, the Patriots powered the program to new heights.

Dominic Pryor jumps up to make a catch. Photo by Bill Landon
Dominic Pryor jumps up to make a catch. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’re extremely proud of the boys and how far they’ve come this year,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “Over the last three seasons, we have improved upon the prior year’s record and, for the seniors, Friday was the culmination of their dedication and effort. Hopefully, going forward, our trip to the county championship will encourage student-athletes throughout the district to play football and strengthen the program.”

Ward Melville’s first break of the game came on a fumble recovery when William Floyd was driving into the red zone. The Patriots offense went to work on their own 18-yard line, and senior quarterback Wesley Manning hit classmate Andrew McKenna, a wide receiver, over the middle on a 22-yard pass to move the chains to the middle of the field. Amid the drive, Ward Melville was forced to punt the ball away.

On their next possession, the Patriots also fumbled the ball, but the difference was that the Colonials made the Ward Melville pay for its mistake by finding the end zone four plays later for an early 7-0 lead.

The ensuing kickoff gave Ward Melville good field position following William Floyd drawing three consecutive penalties for an out of bounds kick, delay of game and offsides. Backed up on its own 25-yard line, William Floyd finally got the kick away and the Patriots’ return brought them to the Colonials’ 38-yard line with eight minutes remaining until halftime.

Wesley Manning tosses a pass over the middle. Photo by Bill Landon
Wesley Manning tosses a pass over the middle. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville seized the opportunity and Manning found senior wide receiver Eddie Munoz over the middle, to move the chains to the 29-yard line. Manning spread the wealth and dropped the next pass to senior wide receiver Dominic Pryor on the left side for the 35-yard touchdown reception, and with senior kicker Joe LaRosa’s extra-point kick, the team tied the game 7-7.

With just over three minutes left in the half, William Floyd went up 14-7 with a 10-yard touchdown run from James Taitt, but Ward Melville had an answer. The Patriots went deep into the playbook, and Manning hit Pryor on a screen pass who, although running into a wall, flicked the ball to senior wide receiver John Corpac, who raced down the left sideline for the touchdown. LaRosa’s kick made it a new game at 14-14. 

Ward Melville had an opportunity to take a lead into the break, but failed to find the end zone on four consecutive plays from William Floyd’s 5-yard line.

Manning threw an interception to open the second half, and Taitt moved the ball to Ward Melville’s 1-yard line on the next play. Nick Silva finished the drive to put William Floyd out front, 21-14, to open the final quarter.

“Obviously we are very upset we didn’t reach our goal of winning the LIC, but I’m very proud to be able to say I helped lead the team to the county championship [final], which we haven’t been to in 29 years,” Manning said. “It’s been a great season and we all made memories and have a bond that will last a lifetime.”

The Patriots struggled with the Colonials’ defensive line, and with 6:54 left to play, Silva tacked on his third touchdown run of the game, to extend the advantage, 28-14.

Chris Boltrek coaches from the sideline. Photo by Bill Landon
Chris Boltrek coaches from the sideline. Photo by Bill Landon

On the ensuing kickoff, Ward Melville’s junior running back Nick Messina made a statement, when he returned the ball 74 yards and into the end zone, to pull the Patriots back within one touchdown with 6:32 remaining.

The Patriots’ final push brought them to the Colonials’ red zone with just over a minute left on the clock, but after four chances Ward Melville just couldn’t break through.

“This is a group of kids that are fighters — they don’t quit no matter what was going on,” Boltrek said. “They fought through adversity at all points of the season. They were never out of any game and that’s just the attitude they have. At one point we were 2-4, and for them to show the fortitude and character to believe in one another and believe in the process and keep fighting all the way to the county championship speaks volumes about them as young men. We’re going to miss our seniors, and I hope their Herculean effort has inspired the underclassmen to work even harder for next season — off-season workouts begin after Thanksgiving.”

Ward Melville’s ascent to the finals may have seemed unlikely, needing to win the final two games of the season to make a postseason appearance, and shutting out Connetquot and dethroning previously undefeated No. 1 Lindenhurst. But in his third year leading the team, Boltrek was able to continue the turnaround for the program.

“I have good athletes and I have good coaches, so I give them a lot of credit,” Boltrek said. “And the kids have bought into the idea that Ward Melville could be a football school.”

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.

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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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