In his mind's eye, in the corners of his brain where imagination rules, Smithtown East attack Brian Willetts had done this many times before.
"Every day I'm thinking of that shot. Every day in practice, I'm picturing the final shot in the county championship," Willetts said. "It was my time to take it to 'X' and be a leader."
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Willetts turned his vivid imagination into explosive reality, bouncing home the game-winner 1:53 into the second overtime as Smithtown East outlasted Ward Melville, 11-10, Wednesday night in a sensational Suffolk Class A championship before a roaring crowd of more than 3,000 fans at Stony Brook University's LaValle Stadium.
"It's a surreal feeling," Willetts said of his shot that came after a solo dodge from behind the goal and ended the Bulls' scoring drought of 23:09. Smithtown East (18-1) advanced to the Long Island Class A title game against Syosset at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at SBU. Ward Melville finished 17-3. Willetts and Dan Rooney scored three goals apiece. Jake McCulloch scored four and Danny Bucaro three for the Patriots.
Asked to describe the type of shot he took, Willetts declared, "It was a game-over shot!"
It took something special to end this game, one that looked as if it might never be over once the goalies took over a contest that began as a potential record-breaking shootout with Smithtown East leading 6-4 after the first quarter.
The pace slowed, especially in the fourth quarter. Ward Melville erased a 9-6 deficit on a goal by James Kickel and a pair by Bucaro. Rooney put the Bulls back on top off a feed from John Daniggelis with 6:44 left in the third quarter, but who knew that would be the last goal for Smithtown East until Willetts' winner?
McCulloch tied it at 10 with a rip from the top of the slot in transition with 8:50 left in the fourth quarter. Who knew that would be the Patriots' final tally?
It was at that point that the shooters shot blanks thanks to the spectacular work of both goalies -- Ward Melville's D.J. Kellerman (12 saves) and Smithtown East's Sean Turner (16 saves, five in the fourth quarter and three in overtime). A forgotten element was that East faceoff specialist Gerard Arceri, while typically outstanding in winning 17 of 25, lost both overtime draws to Eric Wang.
Kellerman turned aside Daniggelis' dart in the final minute of regulation and Turner deflected a Bucaro blast off his chest in the final half minute of the first overtime.
"People are always doubting our defense," Turner said. "But in the second half, they slowed down our offense and the defense had to step up."
Turner said he especially wanted to pick up Arceri in both overtimes. "Gerard has put us on his back all season. I wanted to put Gerard on my back and carry us," Turner said. "I didn't want to be the one to let in the last goal. No eye-black running. No tears."
Just the strong will to win of Willetts. Game over.