Ryan Sheridan’s big right arm put Commack on the brink of their biggest comeback of the season.
Austin McCormick’s right shoulder made sure that Sachem North denied it.
The Cougars offense had been shut out for three quarters in blinding rain and heavy winds by the suffocating Sachem North defense.
But here was Commack on the cusp of victory as Sheridan had delivered two big touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and methodically was working his way downfield for the game winner.
Sheridan drove the Cougars to the Sachem North 18-yard line with 1:04 left and on third down and 10 broke up the middle behind a wave of blockers.
Just as Sheridan crossed the 12, McCormick delivered the hit of the year. The senior cornerback drilled Sheridan, popping the ball from his grip and potential victory from his reach. McCormick recovered the fumble at the 11 with 56 seconds remaining and Sachem North held on for a 17-14 win over Commack on Saturday in a Suffolk I football game.
“They’d opened up the passing game and we were back in coverage,” said McCormick, who made 11 tackles. “I saw him take off and I went right for the strip.”
The jarring hit stopped Sheridan cold and put a dagger in the Cougars (3-4) playoff chances, who need to beat undefeated Lindenhurst (7-0) next week to be guaranteed a playoff berth. Sachem North (5-2) got into the playoffs with the victory.
“This was a win-and-in situation for us,” said McCormick, a three-year varsity starter. “It’s a big win.”
Sachem North sealed the victory behind the power running of senior halfback John Mandola. He carried three times for 17 yards and a first down on the final possession to run out the clock.
“(Mandola) gave us a spark when we needed it most,” said Sachem North coach Dave Falco. “He’s been hampered by an ankle injury most of the season. This was his contribution to our season. He runs downhill and he gives us that explosive power back that we need. He’s been the team first guy all season.”
Mandola rushed 14 times for 74 yards and four first downs, all in the second half.
“I finally feel great,” Mandola said. “When coach called my number I was ready. It feels great to contribute in a tough win.”
The Sachem North punt return unit pressured Commack into turning the ball over on downs when punter Cole Sass avoided having his kick blocked but threw an incomplete pass, giving the Flaming Arrows the ball at the Cougars 24.
On fourth down and 7, Sachem North quarterback Nick Licostie passed for 11 yards to Craig Heffeman to the Cougars 14 for a first down. When the short drive stalled, Joe Gagliardi nailed a 28-yard field goal for the 3-0 lead with 2:33 left in the first quarter.
Sachem North added to the lead when Licostie threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to the diving Courtney Williams in the back of the end zone to cap a seven-play, 68-yard drive to make it 10-0 with 38 seconds left in the half.
Licostie, a converted halfback to quarterback, said the wind was almost impossible but he managed to get the pass to Williams.
“I love being the general out there and running this team,” Licostie said.
Sachem North opened a 17-0 lead when junior halfback Chris Maser bolted up the middle for a 15-yard scoring run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Maser had 81 yards on 14 carries.
Sheridan got Commack on the board 57 seconds later. He unloaded deep and found Brendan McCaffery in stride for a 64-yard touchdown with 10:51 left. Mike Gallo hit the point after to make it 17-7.
Sheridan, who completed 9 of 26 passes for 171 yards, hit a 26-yard strike to wide receiver Ronnie Beard with 5:59 left to make it 17-14.
“It was not easy,” Falco said. “We needed that big play.”