There was blood behind his ear. His eye black had smeared across his sweat-streaked face. His white jersey and pants were covered in mud and stained with grass. Steven Casali looked like he'd been in a brutal fight. But here's the punch line: You should have seen the other guy.
Casali rushed for 289 yards and three touchdowns, made 14 authoritative tackles, forced three fumbles and recovered one to lead Sachem East to a gritty 25-17 victory over host Longwood Friday night in Middle Island.
"I just love the game," said Casali, who accepted a scholarship to play linebacker at Division I Massachusetts. "This was about mental toughness. It was a war out there. Longwood played an awesome game and a physical game."
That's an apt description for how Casali played. He quite literally put the Flaming Arrows (3-2) on his broad shoulders and carried them past the feisty Lions (2-3) in an important Suffolk I game. Longwood led 10-0 late in the second quarter before something clicked for Casali. He burst through the left side, followed a block from Mike Marchello and exploded down the left sideline, shredding some tacklers and outrunning the rest for a 74-yard touchdown run that got Sachem East back into the game.
"We got smacked in the mouth by Longwood and Steven got mad," Sachem East coach Mark Wojciechowski said. "He's a special kid and a humble kid, but when he gets mad, he turns into the Incredible Hulk."
He certainly ran and tackled like a super hero. On Sachem East's first play from scrimmage in the second half, Casali again followed Marchello and blocking back Ryan Dippel for a 50-yard scoring run and a 13-10 lead. The Lions then caught a huge break when a poor snap on a Sachem East punt gave them possession at the East 5 and Dashawn Taylor, who scored on a 65-yard run in the first quarter, scored for a 17-13 Longwood lead with 2:53 left in the third.
Presumably, that made Casali mad once again. His 30-yard run moved the Arrows to the Longwood 20. On the next play, quarterback Danny Wolff faked to Casali -- the defense understandably bit hard -- and hit Dippel open down the middle for a TD and a 19-17 advantage.
After Casali made another huge tackle on third down, Longwood punted and five plays later, Casali went 34 yards for the clinching touchdown. "I'm a big guy and they don't think I can run fast," Casali said. "But I've been working on my speed. I can run."
He said he was recruited at UMass to play linebacker, despite his 4.55 speed and power as a running back. "I'll play either side of the ball," Casali said, "but I have to say I like defense better. I love to hit people."