It was when Sachem North trailed Farmingdale by four points going into halftime, and after the Flaming Arrows lost three defensive players to game-ending injuries, that Justin Rivera believed.
"It was heading into halftime that I really realized they were a beatable team," the senior middle linebacker said after Sachem North's 27-21 victory in the Long Island Class I championship game Saturday night at LaValle Stadium. "They're a great team and we're a great team . . . but we face a lot of good teams and we knew we could hang in with them. We were flying to the ball and playing fast, and that's how we were going to beat them."
Farmingdale scored 21 points on the Sachem North defense in the first half and none after that. After suffering injury after injury, which forced Malik Pierre to shift from the secondary to inside linebacker, and otherwise being what coach Dave Falco called "unsettled," the defense, behind a dominating performance from Rivera and lineman Anthony DiMatteo, held Farmingdale to 75 yards in the second half. The Dalers never got closer than the Sachem North 25.
Rivera had one tackle and two assists in the Dalers' opening drive of the fourth quarter, leading to Pierre's game-changing blocked punt and an eventual Sachem North lead. Rivera had 10 tackles and five assists.
"It was just about getting guys in the positions that they were going to play, and those were different than the positions they'd practiced," Falco said. "Having Justin in there and be our leader on the defense and then seeing Anthony, he's the heart of the D-line and he stepped up."
And though Rivera briefly questioned whether his Flaming Arrows could do the one thing no other team had done this year -- beat Farmingdale -- DiMatteo said he had absolutely no doubts. Not before kickoff, not after the Dalers scored 21 points and not even when teammate after teammate limped off the field.
"You never go into a game thinking you can't beat the other team," Rivera said. "We kept fighting the entire time . . . And now I have a big smile on my face."