Babylon's John Visgauss roared in and hammered quarterback Justin Terry, sending Terry's desperation pass more skyward than forward in the final moments of Friday's Long Island Class IV championship game.
That final Roosevelt pass seemed to float forever -- until Babylon defensive back Jake Carlock intercepted it at the Panthers' 49 with 1:36 remaining. That sealed the Panthers' thrilling 27-26 comeback win over Roosevelt in a battle of two previously unbeaten teams before 3,200 fans at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
It was the second straight and sixth overall Long Island crown for Babylon, which became the first team to record back-to-back 12-0 seasons since the Long Island Championships began in 1992.
"We were down the field in coverage and the quarterback got hit," said Carlock, who had nine interceptions this year. "The ball went straight up and right to me. The hardest part was just making the catch because I was all alone."
Carlock's sure hands sparked Babylon's comeback, as he caught two touchdown passes in the third quarter to erase a 26-12 deficit.
His spectacular one-handed reception on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Nick Santorelli tied the score at 26 with 17 seconds left in the third quarter, and Santorelli's extra-point kick gave the Panthers the lead.
"I was scared when I let it go because it was good coverage," said Santorelli, who completed 26 of 41 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another touchdown. "But then I realized who I threw it to and he made the most incredible catch. He's been doing it all season."
Carlock made a leaping catch with his right hand and landed flat on his back in the corner of the end zone as the Babylon crowd erupted.
"He's a superior athlete," Babylon coach Rick Punzone said. "He's just a human highlight reel."
Carlock's catch punctuated a seven-play, 58-yard scoring drive after Ray Wardell recovered a fumble at the Babylon 42. Santorelli completed four of five passes for 39 yards on the go-ahead march.
Santorelli and Carlock already had hooked up on a 10-yard touchdown pass and two-point conversion pass -- from Carlock to Santorelli -- to bring Babylon within 26-20.
"I never thought we'd throw so much, and the offensive line was the key to victory," said Santorelli, who was never sacked in the Panthers' 24-game winning streak. "It was like a backyard game with all the passes."
The Panthers opened the scoring on the game's first drive with a nine-play, 58-yard march capped by Luke Zappia's 17-yard touchdown reception. Santorelli hit Zappia uncovered in the end zone to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead with 8:55 left in the first quarter.
Roosevelt (11-1), playing in the school's ninth LIC, came out in a spread formation and surprised the Babylon defense.
"They are well coached and have so much speed," Punzone said. "They got the edge a few times in the first half."
With Roosevelt operating in shotgun formation with five receivers, Raymond Jones went in motion, took an inside handoff from quarterback Robert Hansen and went around right end untouched for a 79-yard touchdown run to tie it at 6.
Hansen hit Terry in stride for a 54-yard scoring pass to give the Rough Riders a 12-6 lead with 3:56 left in the first quarter.
Babylon tied it at 12 on Santorelli's 2-yard scoring run, but Roosevelt took an 18-12 lead just before the half when Denzel Barnes broke loose for a 69-yard touchdown.
Roosevelt made it 26-12 when Shamari Kirkpatrick returned the second-half kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown and Jones ran for the two-point conversion.
"Not many people thought we could beat them, and we played so hard," said Roosevelt halfback Johnnie Akins, who managed 71 yards on 11 carries despite battling turf toe to set the Nassau record for yards rushing in a single season with 2,593.
As the teams exited the field, Carlock and Wardell shared a moment at midfield. Wardell had eight receptions to tie the LIC record for catches in a game. He was the co-record- holder for about an hour as Carlock finished with 10 catches.
"If it's not mine, I'm happy it's Jake's," Wardell laughed. "He's the best."