The Lawrence Golden Tornadoes became Long Island champions after coming back in the fourth quarter to beat Sayville by the final score of 21-20 in the Long Island Class III championship game at Hofstra on Friday night.
The Golden Tornadoes stormed back in the second half after trailing Sayville 20-7 at halftime. Lawrence did not hold a lead until the fourth quarter, when Lawrence senior Ed Robinson returned an interception 30 yards for the game winning touchdown with 5:25 left in the game.
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“They say offense wins games, but defense finally won us a championship,” Robinson said after the game.
In a rematch of last year’s record-setting shootout for the Long Island title, it was the defenses that shined for both undefeated teams, as both units held the other team’s high-scoring offense in check.
Sayville began the game with the ball and came out of the gate strong, scoring on the game’s opening drive. Senior quarterback Zach Sirico found senior wide receiver Matthew Starr for a 37-yard touchdown pass to give the Golden Flashes an early 7-0 lead.
The high-powered Lawrence offense then took the field for their first possession of the game, but was forced to punt after an impressive defensive series from Sayville. The Golden Flashes held Lawrence scoreless in the first quarter, something that hasn’t happened to the Golden Tornadoes all season long.
Lawrence got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter when senior wide receiver John Ganas hauled in a 20-yard pass from junior quarterback Joe Capobianco for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 10:14 to go in the quarter.
After going three-and-out on offense on the following drive, the Sayville defense forced a three-and-out of their own. Sayville senior linebacker Ethan Cooley recorded a sack on Capobianco to give the Golden Flashes the ball back with 6:01 left in the half.
Sayville began with the ball at the 50-yard line and relied on their running game to get them into the end zone. Sirico and senior running back John Haggart both had 10-yard runs to pick up key first downs on the drive. Sirico capped off the scoring drive with a 13-yard rushing touchdown on a quarterback keep to give Sayville the lead back 14-7 with 4:35 left in the half.
Unfortunately, the play came with a price for Sayville, as Sirico had to leave the game with what appeared to be a lower-leg injury sustained on the touchdown run.
Senior Donald DeKenipp stepped in as quarterback on Sayille’s next possession with 2:24 left in the half and picked up where Sirico left off by engineering a scoring drive from the Golden Flashes own 35-yard line.
The drive was capped off by a 41-yard touchdown grab from senior wide receiver James Giattino. Sayville missed the ensuing extra point but headed into halftime with a 20-7 lead. The missed extra point would come back to haunt the Golden Flashes at the end of the game.
Lawrence began the second half with the ball at their own 40-yard line and put together an impressive scoring drive that include two fourth-down conversions. A 5-yard rushing touchdown from Capobianco cut into Sayville’s lead, 20-14, and ignited Lawrence’s comeback effort.
On the following drive, it seemed as if Sayville was on their way to finding the end zone again, as the Golden Flashes marched deep into Lawrence territory from their own 27-yard line. However, an interception by Lawrence senior Tyler Fredericks prevented Sayville from adding to their lead.
After forcing Sayville to punt from their own end zone, Lawrence would get a chance to capture the lead early in the fourth quarter starting at the Sayville 45-yard line. The Golden Tornadoes advanced all the way to the Sayville 6-yard line but Capobianco was sacked by senior defensive back Kyle Murray to turn the ball over on downs with 6:23 left in the game.
Sayville took over at their own 16-yard line with their eyes on increasing their lead late in the game. However, Robinson made the play of the game with a 30-yard pick-six to give Lawrence their first lead of the game, 21-20, with 5:25 left.
“I kind of knew his route a little bit because we were practicing it all week,” Robinson said after the game. “I opened my hips one way and got him inside. Then the quarterback threw it a little behind and I made an adjustment. After I secured the ball, I knew I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I was getting in the end zone.”
Sayville began their next drive at their own 39-yard line in need of points. With 3:37 remaining in the contest and the game on the line, the Golden Flashes were met with a fourth-and-one on their own 48-yard line.
Unfortunately for Sayville, Tyler Fredericks and senior defensive lineman Florian Capobianco were there to stuff them at the line and end their championship hopes. Lawrence took over on downs and ran out the clock for the 21-20 victory.
“You couldn’t push them hard enough,” Lawrence head coach Joe Martillotti said. “It didn’t matter what they faced. They were down 20-7 at half and to come back and win it defensively — it’s a great, unbelievable feeling.”
With the win, Lawrence finishes the season with a perfect 12-0 record and the title of Long Island champions. For a team known for its prolific offense, it was gratifying for Martillotti that the defense stepped up with the championship on the line.
“All season long we heard it was the offense and quietly our defense was doing their job,” Martillotti said. “Our starters until this game only gave up three touchdowns the whole season and they’ve done a great job all year.”
For Sayville, the loss signaled the end to a successful season that saw the team go undefeated in the regular season and win its third consecutive Suffolk Conference III championship.
“It’s a great group of kids that I just coached this year,” Sayville head coach Robert Hoss said. “That group is a class that is all heart and all character.”
“They played their [butts] off tonight and, as a football coach, sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t reflect what really happened out there and at the end of the day that’s a championship team in my book,” Hoss added.
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