East Islip RB Andrew Cooper takes the handoff around the...

East Islip RB Andrew Cooper takes the handoff around the outside against Sayville, in the Suffolk County division III football finals, Friday, November 17, 2023 at Lavalle Stadium in Stony Brook Credit: George A Faella

The final seconds ticked off the scoreboard at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium and the celebration was on.

The East Islip sideline erupted as players and coaches charged onto the field after a defensive battle against top-seeded Sayville.

Halfback Andrew Cooper scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to give No. 2 East Islip a 17-7 win over the defending champions in the Suffolk Division III football final Friday night before a crowd of more than 2,000.

The victory snapped Sayville’s winning streak at 22 games and avenged a close loss to the Golden Flashes earlier in the season. Sayville’s most recent loss had come on the same stage when it fell to East Islip, 35-28, for the 2021 title.

East Islip (9-2) will face Nassau Conference III champion South Side — a 17-14 winner over Floral Park — in the Long Island Class III championship game on Friday at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium at 4:30 p.m.

It will be East Islip’s fifth appearance in the Long Island Championships. Its only win came in 2007, a 35-7 victory over Lawrence.

“We are a football team that was at a crossroads at the midpoint of the season,” East Islip coach Sal J. Ciampi said. “I was concerned about our mental toughness and how we’d react to failure. And I found out early that we were resilient and understood that we can learn from losing and come back and win.

“I told them after we started 2-2 and lost at Sayville that I believed we could still be Suffolk County champions.”

East Islip lost at Sayville, 20-13, on Sept. 30.

“We knew we were a good football team,” captain Sebastian Regis said. “We had to put it all together.”

East Islip reeled off seven straight wins, shutting down two of the best offensive units in the division the past two weeks, including a 17-0 victory over Westhampton in the semifinals.

The Golden Flashes, who scored 33 points per game this season, were held to one score. They were without starting quarterback Jake Tripptree, who was injured in last week’s semifinal and was unable to play.

“We were pushing people into the backfield and disrupting the running game,” Regis said. “And our linebackers were making the plays right behind us. We expected a defensive battle and we got one.”

Jack Kalinowski’s interception at the East Islip 49 in the fourth quarter set up the go-ahead score. East Islip quarterback Thomas Costarelli found Matt McIntee for 30 yards to the Sayville 2 before Cooper scored on a 2-yard run for a 10-7 lead with nine minutes left.

East Islip put the game away when Cooper took a screen pass behind a pancake block by Regis and went 28 yards for the final margin.

“Regis has been the best player on Long Island for two years,” Ciampi said. “It’s unfortunate they didn’t have Tripptree. We were confident even if he played. We know that’s a great football program. And so are we.”

East Islip came up with the defensive stand of the season midway through the second quarter. Sayville drove to the half-foot line on a 16-yard catch by Kyle Messina. Messina was ruled to have landed just before the goal line, which set Sayville up for a first-and-goal play inside the 1.

Messina was stopped for no gain and then lost a yard on second down. Sayville then was called for two 5-yard motion penalties before sophomore quarterback Patrick Coan was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Regis. On fourth down, Coan was sacked again, this time by Charlie Heffernan and Dylan Bayer at the 24-yard line.

“We weren’t giving an inch,” sophomore defensive tackle Bayer said. “That drive was the turning point in the game.”

“We didn’t execute there,” Sayville coach Reade Sands said. “We needed a few inches. We were doubling on Regis and Bayer and we didn’t make those blocks. They’re as good as it gets and you have to give them credit for making that stand.”

On the final possession of the first half, Costarelli engineered a seven-play, 47-yard march into field-goal range. His 7-yard completion on fourth down to Kalinowski for a first down and a 9-yard pass to Matt Baldino set up the opening score. With junior Alex Ciampi on the hold, Anthony Mariani drilled a 33-yard field goal as time expired for the 3-0 lead.

East Islip carried that momentum into the third quarter and went on a 15-play, 71-yard march that stalled when Baldino came up inches short of a first down at the Sayville 4. The drive lasted 7:56.

A few plays later, on third-and-13, Coan looked left and tossed a screen pass to Messina on his right, and he bolted down the home sideline for a 61-yard touchdown. Nick Watson kicked the extra point to make it 7-3 with 1:33 left in the third quarter.

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