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.
“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.”