It took all of 11 seconds to get Ward Melville off to an excellent start to the 2016 football season.
John Corpac scooped the opening kickoff at his 25 and broke up the middle of the field and down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown return in a 35-7 victory over Northport on Friday night. The score sent the packed house into bedlam as the No. 3 Patriots, who have the highest preseason seed in school history, made a loud statement.
“We set the tone with the kickoff and it really gave us confidence,” Ward Melville quarterback Wesley Manning said. “But there was still an entire game to play and we didn’t want any letdowns.”
Manning gave the Patriots late momentum in the first half with a 24-yard scoring strike to a leaping Eddie Munoz in the back of the end zone with 14 seconds left for a 14-7 lead and host Ward Melville never looked back in its win in a Suffolk Division I opener.
The touchdown toss came two plays after Dylan Krieg recovered a fumble at the Ward Melville 24-yard line with 26 seconds left in the half.
“We took advantage of the turnover and put those points on the board,” Manning said. “Eddie made a great catch in the end zone.”
Munoz came across the back of the end zone as Manning scrambled away from trouble, set his feet, and led Munoz to the back pylon for the score.
“I saw him coming and put it out there,” Manning said.
The first half was a back and forth defensive struggle with the teams totaling seven punts. The Northport defense shut down the Patriots on two drives into Tigers territory when defensive back Pat O’Brien grabbed two interceptions, the second on a deflected pass.
The Tigers evened the score early in the second quarter with an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Halfback Frankie Stola rumbled 22 yards to the Patriots’ 1 before halfback Christian Moriarty scored from a yard out. Will Regensburger added the kick to make it 7-7 with 9:46 left in the half.
Munoz’ heroics continued in the second half. On Northport’s opening possession of the third quarter, a hard hit jarred the ball loose and Munoz picked up the fumble and returned the ball 40 yards to the Tigers’ 30, where he was drilled out of bounds for a 15-yard penalty moving the ball to the 15.
Ward Melville failed to capitalize and turned the ball over on downs. But there was Munoz again, the man of opportunity, making another big play on defense. This time, the speedy defensive back corralled a deflected pass and returned the interception 57 yards for a touchdown with 4:00 left in the third quarter for a 21-7 lead.
“You always have to be ready for anything and I learned that on special teams since the ninth grade,” Munoz said. “You have to make your own breaks. You have to anticipate the deflection or the fumble and make a play on it.”
Ward Melville’s junior halfback Nick Messina added touchdown runs of 14 and 63 yards for the final margin.
“It’s one win,” Munoz said. “But it’s an excellent confidence builder.”