'OK, I believe you.''
That's what I said to Patchogue-Medford quarterback Rich Ciufo on Friday night after his team's shocking win over top-seeded Longwood.
A day earlier, Ciufo had shared some "inside information" about the upcoming Suffolk I semifinal game -- that the seventh-seeded Raiders would convincingly beat their powerful (and undefeated) opponent.
Shades of Joe Namath: He was right.
Ciufo engineered what many will say was the biggest upset in the last 20 years of Long Island high school football.
The athletic senior threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in a 38-22 win over the Longwood juggernaut.
Though I respected his confidence when Ciufo first shared his inside information, I had to laugh at what I believed was blind optimism.
Ciufo visited Newsday late Thursday for a photo shoot after signing a national letter of intent to play baseball at Stony Brook University. With a sly smile that screamed "I know something that you don't," he remarked that his Raiders were going to spoil Longwood's perfect season.
"We're going there to win," Ciufo said. "And we will."
We know quarterbacks have to believe they're going to win every time they take the field -- or why play the game, right?
Aside from the Jets themselves, no one thought Namath and his team belonged on the same playing field as the powerful Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
But Namath guaranteed a win. We know how that turned out.
Ciufo's promise was pretty hard to believe, too.
Longwood was undefeated at 9-0 and had trounced the Raiders, 42-7, during the regular season. No seventh seed in Class I had ever beaten the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the playoffs, but Patchogue-Medford already had disposed of No. 2 Connetquot in a 29-28 quarterfinal win -- and hoped to become the first.
Want more? Patchogue-Medford had four losses and needed to win its last two regular-season games just to get into the postseason. Longwood's high-powered offense had scored 62, 62 and 55 points in the last three weeks of the regular season and averaged 44 points per game overall. The Lions had the player considered Long Island's top halfback in Isaiah White, who entered the game with 26 touchdowns and 1,728 yards rushing.
Pretty daunting stats -- unless, of course, you're Rich Ciufo.
Maybe Ciufo hoped his team could pull this one out and needed to say it over and over to believe it himself. Or maybe he knew his teammates needed to hear it to believe it. In any case, his words reverberated throughout Friday night's game.
Dom Cassella returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to kick-start a memorable evening for the Raiders faithful.
But the capacity crowd of more than 2,500 fans rose from their seats when White raced 62 yards for a touchdown to tie it at 7.
There was Ciufo jumping up and down on the sideline, ready to pick his team up. On the next play from scrimmage, he fired a 50-yard touchdown strike down the middle of the field to tight end Andrew Garcia for a 14-7 lead, and the rout was on as Patchogue-Medford put together a 24-point first quarter.
Ciufo engineered a nine-play, 62-yard scoring drive capped by his 3-yard run and completed 3 of 3 passes for 34 yards on the next drive before running 37 yards on a trap play for a 31-14 halftime lead. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 232 yards overall.
His last touchdown strike was a thing of beauty -- a 32-yard pass to Mike Baldwin on a pump-and-go down the sideline for a 38-14 lead in the third quarter. At that point, you had to believe.
Patchogue-Medford's last Suffolk title came in 2002. The Raiders went on to beat Farmingdale, 27-12, in the Long Island Class I championship game. They will meet Lindenhurst, a 33-7 winner over Sachem East, in the Suffolk I final at Stony Brook University on Friday at 7 p.m.
When Friday's game ended, Ciufo led his team in the midfield handshake. As soon as he shook the final opponent's hand, he turned to me, pointed and -- with a huge smile of satisfaction -- said, "Did I tell you?"
And that's why they play the games!