First it was an East Islip coach who came over to put his arm around senior quarterback Derek Burrell. Then a fan yelled, "Keep that head up, No. 1!" Then even a security guard chimed in as he passed by: "Great game, Derek!"
The parade of encouragement for Burrell continued long after Plainedge (12-0) celebrated its 26-16 win over East Islip (10-2) in the Long Island Class III championship game on Friday at Hofstra’s James M. Shuart Stadium.
The East Islip community provided as much support as it could to the player who did so much to lift EI.
"He’s just a top-notch kid," East Islip coach Sal J. Ciampi said. "He’s respected by everyone: his teammates, the school community, his teachers, his coaches. It doesn’t get any better than him."
Burrell entered Friday with 1,321 rushing yards, 1,223 passing yards and 31 total touchdowns — 18 rushing, 13 passing — as he torched Suffolk III with his dual-threat ability.
In the Class III game, Burrell ran 23 times for 151 yards and a touchdown and completed 6 of 8 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. Afterward, Plainedge coach Rob Shaver gave Burrell a shout-out for being one of the best players he’s seen in his 30 years of coaching.
Burrell’s night also included two turnovers, though.
Facing a Red Devils defense that entered holding opponents to 4.4 points per game, Burrell was intercepted midway through the third quarter. He coughed up a fumble a few minutes later. Both turnovers led to Plainedge touchdowns.
"Just had to deal with it, forget about it," Burrell said, "and try to make the next play."
Against one of Long Island’s stingiest defenses, he did exactly that.
The final note of Burrell’s high school career was an 11-play, 82-yard drive that he capped by weaving through Plainedge defenders before cruising into the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown.
"This team means the world to me," Burrell said, "and we were always going to fight, no matter what, until the final whistle."
As much as the on-field talent will define Burrell’s legacy with East Islip — Ciampi has called Burrell "the greatest single player in East Islip football history" — so too will that resiliency.
"He’s just about as good a kid as you can have," Ciampi said.
And as far as how Burrell wants to be remembered?
"I just want to be remembered as part of the team that won the Suffolk championship," he said. "I want to be remembered as being part of this group."