By Steven Zaitz
In a game of punch-counterpunch, it was the Sachem North football team that got last licks against Ward Melville on Nov. 10 in Lake Ronkonkoma, knocking the Patriots out of the playoffs and ending their season.
Sachem North running back Lucas Singleton’s six-yard touchdown run with two minutes left in the fourth quarter propelled the Flaming Arrows to a 27-21 victory in the Suffolk Conference I semifinal game. They will face top-seeded William Floyd, who destroyed Longwood 49-13 on Saturday, at Stony Brook University to decide the Suffolk County championship for Conference I. This will be Sachem’s first trip to the finals since winning the Long Island Championship in 2013. Ward Melville was the 2022 county champion.
In a game filled with wild haymakers and explosive plays by both teams, Ward Melville managed to answer Sachem North touchdown for touchdown, erasing seven-point deficits on three separate occasions. But the Patriots were unable to stop the Flaming Arrows on 3rd down in the game-deciding drive that led to their postseason ouster.
Arrow QB Anthony Vino, who missed the final six games of the regular season due to injury, launched the first salvo in this one, hitting WR Brayden Tappin for a 40-yard score to start the game. Patriot QB Ethan Burgos hopped through a small crease and sprung himself 49 yards for a game-tying touchdown later in the first quarter.
WR Shane Reilly got behind the Ward Melville defense and Vino hit him for a 36-yard score midway through the second quarter. Burgos answered again, finishing off a 65-yard drive with a one-yard keeper. The drive was aided by two 4th and short conversions, one of which was a completion to WR Brody Morgan that deflected off the helmet of teammate Griffin Kramer, went straight up in the air and fell into the arms of a surprised and thankful Morgan, who was brought down at the Sachem 43-yard line.
Six plays later, Burgos took it in to tie the score at 14 with a minute to go in the half. It would become untied in short order at the start of the third quarter.
On the first play from scrimmage, Singleton took a handoff from Vino and immediately sensed that his path around left tackle was blocked off. He bounced it to the right, toward the Patriot sideline, and had only green astroturf in front of him. Eighty yards later, he was celebrating in the end zone with his teammates because he had given Sachem North yet another touchdown-sized lead.
After a Patriot three and out, Sachem was on the precipice of expanding their lead to two touchdowns as they drove the ball deep into Ward Melville territory. But do-it-all linebacker/running back/emergency kicker Daniel Brausch Jr. made a leaping interception in the end zone for the green and gold with five minutes left in the third quarter to keep it a one-score game.
“I saw the quarterback [Vino] step back, and when he threw the ball, I knew I had a chance to make a play for my team,” said Brausch, a senior.
He would make more plays for his team. After his interception, the Patriots would march 80 yards — all on the ground — in seven minutes, and it would be Brausch who would cap the drive with a one-yard plunge, tying the score at 21.
“Being a two-way player is an honor because it means the coaches believe in me enough to put me in those positions,” Brausch said. “I look at it as having twice the number of chances to make plays to help us win games.”
Brausch would help in even more ways than just those two.
When Morgan, who is the Patriot kicker in addition to playing wide receiver, was injured in the first half of the game, Brausch took over on kickoffs and extra points. He made both of his kicks, and one of his kickoffs was nearly recovered by Ward Melville. He also returned kickoffs on special teams.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, Ward Melville had forced the Flaming Arrows backward and Vino and company faced 3rd and 12 deep in their own end. A stop by the Patriots would likely result in getting the ball with good field position to get the go-ahead and potential winning score.
But in one of the most important and explosive plays of the game, Vino rolled right and hit WR Andrew Eaton for 24 yards and a 1st down. This was a Patriot backbreaker. Sachem would convert three more 3rd downs, consume eight minutes, and score on a six-yard run by Singleton with a smidgin over two minutes left in the game.
Brausch would block the extra point, which created the possibility of Ward Melville, with two minutes left and three timeouts, winning the game with a last-minute TD and an extra point conversion.
The Patriots moved the ball to midfield in short order. Burgos scrambled to the Sachem 35 with just over a minute remaining. But on 3rd and long, after a long delay caused by timeouts taken by both teams, the shotgun snap of center Bobby Ehlers flew over Burgos’ head. The quarterback did well to track it down and throw it away. But it was a waste of a valuable down, and it brought up 4th and 10 and the Patriots’ last chance.
Would they get off the mat and survive for yet a fourth time in this game?
Burgos dropped back but didn’t find anyone open. He tap-danced down the right sideline, cut back into the middle of the field and lunged forward. Would it be enough?
Despite his effort, the ball was spotted about three quarters of a yard short of the sticks. Sachem ball. The game was over.
“That last drive was tense,” said Burgos. “We had a limited amount of time and were trying to do everything as quickly as we could. It was a tough way for the season to end.”