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Ward Melville Football

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.”

Ward Melville running back Griffin Kramer rumbles through the Lindenhurst line on Nov. 3. Photo by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

Fortune really does favor the bold.

Clinging to a 14-10 lead with less than five minutes to go in its first-round playoff game against perennial powerhouse Lindenhurst on Nov. 3, the Ward Melville football Patriots were desperately trying to run out the clock.

But after two unsuccessful running plays and facing 3rd and 12 from their own 15-yard line, the very real possibility of punting the ball back to the Bulldogs with plenty of clock and likely a short field stared Patriot head coach Chris Boltrek directly in the face. He took a timeout to discuss his options with his staff and senior quarterback Ethan Burgos.

Conventional and conservative football wisdom would be to run the ball, melt the clock as much as possible, and let your defense — which had shut the Bulldogs out in the second half — seal the victory. 

So much for conventional wisdom. 

With a stacked box, Burgos took the snap on this fateful third down play, wheeled around and handed it to senior wideout Jackson Weber on a jet sweep option pass. Weber sprinted to the far sideline, stopped, and threw the ball to a crossing WR Brody Morgan, who caught the ball and was knocked out of bounds at the Patriot 38-yard line. It was plenty good enough for a first down, with the clock now whittled down to three minutes.

“It’s a play we practice every week,” said Boltrek. “If it’s not set up perfectly, then Jackson simply runs the ball and we punt it back to them. If the defense attacks the run, it opens things up for our receivers behind them.”

Coach Boltrek makes it sound logical and easy, but there is still a matter of risk and execution, especially at such a critical juncture of the game.

“When the play was first called after the timeout, I was nervous because I knew no matter what, I couldn’t throw an interception in that spot,” said Weber. “But I knew I had to come up big to make the play for my team. Brody did a great job of getting open, and I’m happy my coach had confidence in me to make a big play.”

Burgos, who threw for a touchdown in the first quarter and ran for the game-winner to start the fourth, managed the game like an old pro, mixing up runs, passes and the occasional trickeration to confuse and surprise the Lindenhurst defense.

“They were a tough and physical opponent, and guys on both sides were willing to give it their all,” said Burgos. “But many people still don’t give the Ward Melville football program the respect that it deserves. I hope this win changes that somewhat, and our goal for the rest of the playoffs is to earn even more respect.”

One player who earned the respect of everyone who watched this particular game was RB/LB Griffin Kramer, who seemingly never came off the field for Ward Melville. He had 60 yards rushing as a punishing fullback and made 12 tackles on defense    three of which were behind the line of scrimmage. He also had a sack of Bulldog QB Christian Capogna.

“After that first drive, our defense got after it,” Kramer, a senior, said. “We didn’t want to let the team down and as a unit, we started playing with the mindset that there was no way our season was going to end on this night.”

The evening started in easy breezy fashion for the defending Suffolk County Division I champions, as Burgos led a seven-play, 70-yard march that ended with a leaping catch in the end zone by Senior WR Sebastian Jolly for a 7-0 Ward Melville lead.

But Lindy held serve on its opening possession by virtue of a 27-yard TD pass from Capogna to Christian Aquino, who led the Bulldogs with 105 yards receiving on eight receptions. Bulldog kicker Ben Choden would connect on a 22-yard field goal in the second quarter to give his team a 10-7 lead that they would carry into halftime. That would be the only scoring in the game until Burgos scrambled up the left sideline for a 17-yard score with ten minutes left in the game.

“Ethan is a special athlete and a very smart football player,” said Kramer. “He stayed calm tonight and did whatever we needed from him to win this game.  He’s an elusive runner and threw the ball really well when he was called upon to do that.”

Burgos was 10 for 17 for 86 yards in the air, and he ran for another 92 yards. That is good for a 91.8 passer rating. He had mutual admiration for his teammate Kramer.

“Kramer is the toughest kid I know, and the entire defense runs through him,” said Burgos. “His ability to read what the opposing offense id trying to do is unmatched and he is the energy of the team – on both sides of the ball.”

They will need a large energy reserve for their next task — a semifinal match on the road against arch enemy and Suffolk Division I’s second seed Sachem North, who easily dispatched Walt Whitman over the weekend, 42-10.

Both teams are 7-2 entering the game, but the Patriots beat the Flaming Arrows 29-7 in the regular season, rolling up 250 yards on the ground. Burgos had 107 of those yards and is assuming Sachem hasn’t forgotten that late September beatdown.

“We’ll be ready for them,” he said. “I expect us to play our brand of football, assert ourselves over them and walk into another county championship.”

A bold statement from the Ward Melville signal caller – a trait that seems to run deep with this Ward Melville football team.

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The Ward Melville Patriots boys varsity football team (4-0) defeated the Patchogue-Medford Raiders (0-4) at a home game Sept. 28 with a  final score of 37-6.

The Patriots will face Walt Whitman High School at Ward Melville High School’s homecoming game Oct. 6.

The Ward Melville football team got on the scoreboard first Saturday in a battle on the gridiron against visiting Northport, but the Tigers ultimately spoiled the Patriots’ homecoming celebration, winning 35-21.

Ward Melville (1-2) opened the scoring with an impressive 16-play, 82-yard drive, capped by senior running back Nick Cervone’s 7-yard touchdown run and junior kicker Joe LaRosa’s point after, to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.

But Northport responded with a touchdown run of its own to tie it up.

With 1:57 left in the quarter, Ryan Elliot punctuated a nine-play, 65-yard march with a 13-yard touchdown run. With the point-after attempt successful by Ryan Tromblee, the game was tied, 7-7.

On the next possession, Northport intercepted senior quarterback Matthew O’Hea’s pass over the middle. The pass, which was intercepted by Northport safety Dan Preston, was returned 70 yards for the tiebreaking score.

Northport continued to light up the scoreboard, and took advantage of two turnovers, scoring three touchdowns to end the first half leading 35-7.

The Tigers didn’t score after the halftime break, while Ward Melville capitalized on two opportunities in the fourth to close the gap, 35-21.

First, junior wide receiver John Corpac scored on a 15-yard pass from O’Hea, who finished the game going 10-for-16 with 101 yards and two interceptions, and after, senior wide receiver Vincent Negri scored off a 1-yard pass from junior quarterback Wesley Manning.

Ward Melville looks to bounce back from the loss when the Patriots travel to Sachem North Friday, with the hopes of spoiling their opponent’s homecoming festivities. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.