Randy Russo came on the blitz and put a clean hit on Longwood halfback Anele Nwanyanwu. The ferocity of the hit stopped the powerful senior at the Floyd 1-yard line as time expired in the first half.
The impact of that play would be felt the rest of the way. It was a game-changer.
Russo’s hard tackle preserved a two-score lead and Floyd went on to a 34-14 win over Longwood on Friday night in the Suffolk Division I championship game before a crowd of more than 1,500 at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium.
“It was a momentum-changer for sure,” said Floyd coach Paul Longo, who earned his 200th career win. “They were getting the ball to start the second half, so stopping them at the end of the first half was critical to winning. Our defense made big plays all game.”
It was Floyd’s 12th Suffolk Division I crown and second in a row. Floyd (11-0) will meet Freeport (11-0) for the Long Island Class I championship at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Stony Brook.
“It felt good to make such a big stop,” said Russo, who had nine tackles, including three for a loss, and a forced fumble. “I blitzed from the middle and got in the backfield pretty fast. And [Andrew] Minelli came from the outside and finished him off.”
Quarterback Tom Verga got Floyd on the scoreboard on the first possession. Verga went option right, faked the pitch, darted inside the teeth of the defense and went untouched for a 59-yard touchdown. Brian Lombardo’s extra-point kick made it 7-0 with 10:33 left.
“It was a veer and I made the right read on the defense,” said Verga, who ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. “Our offensive line made all the right blocks and all I saw was green.”
Longwood tied the score late in the first quarter as quarterback Noah Rattmer led the Lions on a five-play, 87-yard drive. On first-and-20 from the Longwood 33-yard line, Rattmer broke a 67-yard run up the middle for a touchdown. Michael Hernandez’s kick made it 7-7.
The Floyd defense set up the next touchdown. The Colonials forced a three-and-out after Eddie Longo’s sack pushed the ball to the Lions’ 16. When Longwood attempted to punt, the long snap was muffed and a hard tackle by Minelli put the ball at the Lions’ 5. Two plays later, Tyshawn Lopez scored on a 3-yard run for a 13-7 lead with 7:29 left in the half.
Longwood (8-3) threatened to tie the score after defensive end Michael Loughran recovered a Floyd fumble at the Colonials’ 30. Rattmer found Zach Soriano for 14 yards and a first down to Floyd’s 13, but the Lions turned the ball over on downs after Russo, Minelli and Nick Muelthaler came up with big stops.
Floyd took over and drove 76 yards in six plays, capped by Lopez’s 11-yard touchdown run. Verga hit Devin Brown with the two-point conversion pass for a 21-7 lead with 1:07 left.
The Colonials added to the lead in the third quarter after Verga escaped a potential sack and continued to roll to his right away from the pressure. He threw a dart downfield to Wayne Bristel, who sneaked behind the secondary for a 41-yard gain to the Lions’ 4. Lopez’s 1-yard touchdown run made it 27-7.
“He’s such a great athlete,” Longo said of Verga. “He’s an excellent game manager and a kid of high character. He’s the leader you need to win championships.”
And the defense?
“Oh, and you certainly need a dynamite defense to win a title,” Longo said. “And our defense has been great.”
Sounds like a championship mix.