Justin Rivera's defensive play ensures Sachem North victory
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Sachem North seemed to know what was coming.
In the days leading up to its Suffolk I semifinal game against second-seeded Connetquot Saturday, third-seeded Sachem North put a little more emphasis on defending two-point conversion plays.
The extra attention paid dividends when linebacker Justin Rivera made a jarring hit on wide receiver Sean McKean, thwarting a two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter and preserving Sachem North's 14-13 win.
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"I saw that they went into a pass drop, so I knew automatically they were going to run that quick slant," Rivera said. "They were doing it earlier in the game. But I finally caught up with it."
Sachem North (8-2) will face No. 4 Floyd (8-2) in the final at noon next Sunday at Stony Brook.
Sachem North took a 14-0 lead on touchdowns by Kevin Bragaglia and Trent Crossan but Connetquot (8-2) stormed back, scoring twice in the fourth quarter.
The first TD was a 5-yard run by quarterback Ricky Hahn to make it 14-7. Tyler Nason scored on a 6-yard slant from Hahn with 41 seconds left that cut the deficit to 14-13.
After a timeout, Connetquot opted to go for the win rather than overtime. "They were playing at home and they had some momentum at the point, so we figured they'd go for the win," defensive back Mike O'Donnell said. "We were ready for it and we had our calls in place."
O'Donnell had primary coverage on McKean. "The guy actually had half a step on me, but I was pretty tight," O'Donnell said. "But Justin Rivera was there. He's the leader of our defense and he made a play."
The Sachem North defense stopped the Thunderbirds in the red zone on three separate drives in the first half, including twice from inside the 10.
"Our defense has gotten a lot better since earlier in the season," said Bragaglia, whose interception in the end zone late in the second quarter halted a potential Connetquot scoring drive.
The last time Sachem North played Connetquot, it resembled an Arena League game. The teams totaled 14 touchdowns and 96 points in Week 2 as the Flaming Arrows prevailed, 56-40. But no one expected that kind of offensive performance this time.
"We knew it wasn't going to be like that," Sachem North coach Dave Falco said. "We've had experiences where we scored a lot of points during the season, but teams usually figure out what you're doing."
His players agreed.
"I didn't think it would be this much of a defensive battle, but I knew both teams had improved a lot," O'Donnell said.
Sachem North struck early, taking a 7-0 lead as Anthony Service hit Bragaglia for a 26-yard score with 9:29 left in the first quarter.
Crossan, who saw action for the first time since Week 7, scored on a 1-yard run to make it 14-0 with 9:59 left in the second quarter.
Getting Crossan back, even in a limited role, was a morale boost for the rest of the squad, according to Falco.
"Trent brings a lot of positives," Falco said. "To have him playing as opposed to standing on the sidelines and feeling bad really helps us."