Maybe it was the split-second absence of JJ Thompson. Maybe it was the late-game mojo that has marked Eastport-South Manor's victories of late.
Or maybe Cole Zeller had simply had enough.
Minutes after he was splayed on the ground after another thwarted run, smacking the turf in frustration, Zeller broke through a hole off right guard and streaked up the sideline for a 43-yard touchdown with 11:33 left in the game, giving Eastport-South Manor a three-point lead in a hotly contested 22-10 victory over Deer Park Friday night in Suffolk III.
After that, he did it again.
Zeller scored three touchdowns, all in the second half and two in the fourth quarter, to shift the script in a game that otherwise had been dominated by Thompson, the imposing running back / defensive back who, after Friday night, has nine of Deer Park's 11 touchdowns. Thompson, who hurt his right shoulder, sat out for the two plays leading up to the go-ahead score. Not that he hadn't done his damage.
With 9:48 left in the first quarter, Thompson broke through a hole up the middle and streaked home untouched for a 52-yard touchdown for Deer Park (3-2).
The two teams traded ineffectual blows for the next 12 minutes, as the Sharks especially failed to find their offensive rhythm -- they managed only two first downs in the first half, both in the same series.
After ESM (4-1 for the first time in school history) went three-and-out with a little less than two minutes left in the half, Thompson ran for 4, 6 and 8 yards before breaking through off the right side and streaking to the left sideline for a 45-yard gain with 3.3 seconds left. Kyle Lessick booted a 27-yard field goal for a 10-0 Deer Park halftime lead.
In the third, a high snap and a muffed Falcons punt put the Sharks at the Deer Park 20. Three plays in, Zeller swept left, turned the corner and skidded into the end zone from 15 yards to make it 10-6 with 2:38 left in the third. After Zeller's go-ahead TD in the fourth, Mark Zaharis tackled the quarterback in the end zone for a safety and Zeller squeaked in for a 1-yard TD with 1:26 left in the game.
"We were able to run the ball pretty well," Zeller said. "It's like the line woke up in the second half and the holes were really big."