Sachem East stuns Connetquot in semis
Slot right, sprint right, 378. It's a play that may live forever in Sachem East football lore.
With 10 seconds showing on the clock, Flaming Arrows quarterback Danny Wolff rolled to his right, threw it to the end zone where Ryan Dippel made a spectacular leaping catch over two defenders to complete a 20-yard scoring play as Sachem East scored a shocking 33-28 upset Saturday of host and No. 1 seed Connetquot in a Suffolk I semifinal.
"I just threw it up there and was hoping for a miracle," Wolff said. "Ryan made the greatest catch I've ever seen."
The play concluded a 49-yard drive that began in nearly as miraculous fashion when Brian Balsamo recovered an on-sides kick with 48 seconds left. Sachem East tailback Steven Casali cleared out several players in the scrum, allowing Balsamo to make the key scoop.
Casali was a workhorse all afternoon, anchoring the defense and carrying 44 times for 237 yards and two touchdowns. His 5-yard burst up the middle with 51 seconds left brought Sachem East (6-4), which faces Floyd for the county championship next weekend, to within 28-27. But he was stopped short on a bold two-point conversion try by several Connetquot tacklers.
"I promised my teammates in the huddle that I would make it. It's my mistake that I didn't," said Casali, who hardly could be faulted since the Thunderbirds (8-2) and nearly all of the estimated 3,000 noisy fans knew who was getting the ball.
There was no secret that an on-sides kick was coming but even after Sachem East recovered, it was a difficult trek to the end zone because it had no timeouts remaining, rendering Casali, its primary offensive weapon, virtually useless. He carried just once for seven yards on the drive, which featured a 12-yard completion to Balsamo and a key pass interference penalty in the end zone against Connetquot.
For a moment, Sachem East coach Mark Wojciechowski considered trying to run the ball in the middle to set up a field goal. "But this worked out much better," Wojciechowski said with a broad grin. "Ryan Dippel has done everything for us and been clutch all year."
Never has he been so clutch as he was yesterday. He ran a fade route but couldn't get completely clear. "I saw the ball up there and I didn't think, I just reacted," Dippel said. "I couldn't believe I caught it. I'm at a loss for words."
Even amidst the joyous celebration among Sachem East players and coaches, including a water-bucket dousing of Wojciechowski by Casali and Connor Farrell (three sacks), there were others struggled to explain what they just witnessed.
"I was blocking on the play. I see Danny throw it and Ryan catch it," Casali. "That's the best catch ever. I love that kid. I don't know what to say. I'm speechless."
The game-ending play obscured a superb effort by Connetquot, which was playing only its second game on a brand-new turf field that was unveiled last weekend. Ryan Harvey carried 24 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns, including a brilliant 50-yard run on a well-conceived draw play that put the T-birds up 28-21 with 5:18 left.
Quarterback Brian McKean completed 15 of 22 passes for 163 yards. Tyler Nason caught seven passes for 59 yards. On most days and for most of yesterday's game, Connetquot's offensive output was enough for a victory.
But that final minute, like the final play, has a permanent place in Sachem East lore. "Coach is always telling us to believe and play to the last whistle," Wolff said.
Or the final digit on the scoreboard clock.