With Lindenhurst trailing by five in the waning moments of the first half in its clash with Connetquot Friday night, Bulldogs coach Nick Lombardo approached sophomore Jeremy Ruckert.
Lombardo casually asked him to block a punt, as if he were asking him to fetch him a cup of Gatorade from the cooler.
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"I was like, 'hell yeah,' " Ruckert said, smiling. "I like listening to him. Practice might be rough if I don't."
Connetquot was backed up against its own 2-yard line. Ruckert burst through the line of scrimmage, blocked the punt and fell on the ball for a touchdown, putting Lindenhurst ahead by a point, but even more importantly, sparking a Bulldogs rally. Ruckert's playmaking in Lindenhurst's 48-28 win over Connetquot in Suffolk I stood out, an especially impressive achievement considering the Bulldogs' overflowing roster of playmakers.
Take, for example, Ryan Hofmann, who had a solid, but not eye-popping, first half: 10-for-20 passing for 141 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
From there, everything clicked. Hofmann completed 14 of 22 passes for 217 yards and three TDs in the final 24 minutes. "He proved again," Lombardo said, "that he's a great leader and phenomenal quarterback. He's got some great weapons, yes, but he made some really big passes late."
Connetquot, which entered with a 21-3 record for the past three regular seasons, drove smoothly down the field on its first possession, using 10 plays (nine rushes) and 3:43 to go 70 yards. Jack Richardson, who ran five times for 58 yards during the drive, capped it with his 3-yard run into the end zone.
With Lindenhurst's offense sputtering early, Gino Bonagura injected life into the Lindenhurst crowd. He wrapped up Connetquot's Jack Cassidy for a sack and a safety to make it 7-2 with 4:23 left in the first.
In the final moments of the first, Hofmann lobbed a fade into the end zone, but Willie Gonzalez stepped in front of the intended receiver for a pick and touchback. Four minutes later, Richardson found pay dirt again, sweeping to the right for a 6-yard score to give Connetquot a 14-2 lead.
From there, the teams traded punches. Joe Barber set up Lindenhurst with his 55-yard reception from Hofmann on a bubble screen. Bonagura plunged ahead 2 yards for the TD to make it 14-8 with 6:34 left.
Connetquot extended its lead to 20-8 in dramatic fashion less than two minutes later. Before absorbing a huge hit, Cassidy got off a perfect pass to Jake Piccinni, leading him into the end zone for a 42-yard score.
Then Lindenhurst made its run, scoring 20 straight points. Hofmann completed three straight passes to Joe Palmeri before hitting Ruckert on a 28-yard post for a TD to pull the Bulldogs to within 20-15.
"He's a freak, honestly," Hofmann said of the 6-6, 215-pound Ruckert. "Best athlete out here."
Less than two minutes later, Ruckert was celebrating in the end zone after his blocked punt.
Hofmann opened the fourth by finding Steven Ramirez in one-on-one coverage and leading him up the right sideline for a 71-yard TD to give Lindenhurst a 35-28 lead with 11:54 left, and the Bulldogs never trailed.
"We have so many multi-sport athletes,"Hofmann said, "where they can just get the ball in space and be out. It's just awesome."