When the high schools of Sachem's vast school district meet on the football field, locals call it a nor'easter. Saturday, they called the wind Bragaglia.
Kevin Bragaglia, an emerging sophomore star, returned the opening kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown, caught a 50-yard scoring pass from replacement quarterback Mike O'Donnell and made an interception as host North outlasted East, 21-14, before a crowd of more than 2,500 in a key Suffolk I game.
"He's only a sophomore but he's become a big-time player for us," North coach Dave Falco said. "He's one of those backs who's been in the program since middle school and knows our flex-bone offense. When we made the decision to keep Trent [Crossan] out, we needed someone to step up."
Bragaglia gave North (4-0) an immediate lift before Crossan, the outstanding junior quarterback, even stepped on the field. However, Crossan tweaked a leg muscle injury he suffered last week and after one series, did not return. "It just didn't feel right," Falco said. "He couldn't explode off the leg."
So junior Mike O'Donnell stepped in, something he had done successfully last year when Trent suffered a season-ending knee injury against Longwood. "It wasn't a hard decision to go to him," Falco said. "Our ultimate goal is to get Trent back to playing running back."
If O'Donnell keeps making plays like the one he made late in the second quarter, the Crossan move might come sooner rather than later. On second-and-6 from midfield, O'Donnell faked a handoff, dropped straight back and delivered a perfectly thrown pass to a streaking Bragaglia, who shook off a tackler to score with 40 seconds left before halftime to make it 13-0. "O.D. put it right there. If I didn't catch it, no one was going to," Bragaglia said.
O'Donnell, who called Crossan "my biggest fan," said he knew he had to be ready for major playing time. "I've done it before and I'm getting more comfortable back there. We're all working toward getting Trent back to his natural position."
Sachem East (2-2) finally made things interesting early in the fourth quarter when Danny Wolff hooked up with Brian Balsamo for a 30-yard touchdown pass that, with the extra point, made it 13-7. Balsamo was elusive all afternoon, catching nine passes for 141 yards.
But almost immediately, North's Malik Pierre answered. On one of the signature plays in Falco's flex-bone, the counter, Pierre came in motion, took a handoff and exploded into the open field for a 68-yard touchdown run and a 21-6 advantage with 7:11 left. Wolff scored on a 1-yard sneak with 2:52 remaining, but North recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
"Tyler blocked the edge, the line did a great job and I just found the hole," said Pierre, who gained 99 yards on seven carries. "They were playing up, and there was no one at the third level. I just ran and made sure not to get caught."
Falco watched the play unfold and leaped with delight on the sideline. "As soon as he broke through, I knew he was gone," the coach said.
Like Bragaglia, he was gone with the wind.