John Corpac bolted around the left side, picked up a crushing block from Dom Pryor and raced 90 yards for the touchdown that would send Ward Melville to its first championship game in 29 years.
Corpac’s dash with 5:09 left sealed Ward Melville’s 27-10 win over undefeated and top-seeded Lindenhurst on Friday night in a Suffolk Division I football semifinal.
Wesley Manning threw three touchdown passes as the Patriots scored 27 straight points to erase a 10-0 deficit and deny two-time Suffolk finalist Lindenhurst another shot at the Long Island Class I title.
“We got together as a coaching staff at halftime and decided we were being much too conservative in our play-calling,” Ward Melville coach Chris Boltrek said. “So we let loose in the second half.”
Ward Melville will play the winner of Saturday’s Longwood- Floyd game for the Suffolk I title.
The first half was an exercise in futility. Heavy winds made passing and punting nearly impossible.
On the first play from scrimmage, Lindenhurst (9-1) forced a fumble that Vincent Winey recovered at the Patriots’ 20. Quarterback Austin Perri scrambled for 12 yards and a first down and then found Cordell Fontana for an 8-yard touchdown. Jeremy Ruckert’s extra point made it 7-0 with 10:01 left.
Lindenhurst extended the lead after defensive back Justin Zotto returned an interception 37 yards to the Ward Melville 5. The Patriots’ defense stiffened and Ruckert drilled a 21-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 10:17 left in the half.
The turning point came when Ward Melville punter Brandon Ciullo buried the Bulldogs at their own 1 and into the wind. After Lindenhurst was unable to move the ball, Ricky Conway had to drive his punt into a 35-mph wind. The ball was blown back and Conway downed it at the 5.
On fourth-and-goal, Manning fired a perfect pass to Eddie Munoz for a 7-yard score with 1:34 left in the half. “It was a tight window and he made a great throw,” Munoz said.
Conway blocked the extra point, but the Patriots had climbed to within 10-6.
Manning fired a 4-yard touchdown pass to Munoz to cap a 12-play, 58-yard drive into the wind and give the Patriots a 13-10 lead. “I was playing with confidence,” Manning said.
On the Patriots’ next possession, Manning fired a quick slant to Andrew McKenna, who split two defenders for a 61-yard touchdown and a 20-10 lead with 11:49 left in the game.
Lindenhurst then drove to the Patriots’ 6 before Corpac intercepted a tipped pass at the 4. Two plays later, he scored the clinching TD. “I looked back, and I was alone,” Corpac said.
“Ward Melville is going to the championship,” Munoz said. “I love it.”