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Jordan Alexander’s defensive steal of Ryan Murphy’s lateral sparks Lawrence

Suquan Stays is congratulated by Keijohn Graham after

Suquan Stays is congratulated by Keijohn Graham after sack in fourth quarter. Credit: James Escher

Lawrence was well aware of Wantagh’s gadget-play repertoire. So when cornerback Jordan Alexander saw a man in motion, he knew what to expect. You can call what happened next the crook-and-ladder play.

Alexander, anticipating a lateral by Ryan Murphy after a reception, snatched the ball out of the air and cruised 31 yards for a touchdown that sparked top-seeded Lawrence to a 21-10 victory over third-seeded Wantagh in the Nassau III championship game Saturday afternoon at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.

Lawrence advanced to next Sunday’s Long Island Class III title game against Westhampton at Stony Brook. It was the Golden Tornadoes’ ninth county championship in the LIC era, which began in 1992.

“As soon as I saw No. 37 [Anthony D’Onofrio] in motion and I saw [Patrick] Walsh go to the outside, I knew what was coming,” Alexander said. “We watched a lot of film. I was thinking hook-and-ladder. I was just in the right place at the right time. I couldn’t believe that all I had to do was run into the end zone.”

Essentially, Alexander intercepted an attempted lateral by Murphy, who had caught a short pass from Ryan McCarty. By rule, that’s a fumble recovery.

The touchdown and extra point gave the Golden Tornadoes (10-1) a 14-10 lead with 1:56 left in the third quarter. Their defense, led by Susquan Stays (10 tackles, including 2 1⁄2 sacks), Keijohn Graham (13 tackles) and Jeavon Johnson (eight tackles), shut down Wantagh the rest of the way.

But not without some anxious moments. Wantagh (8-3) drove to the Lawrence 28 in the final minute, a drive highlighted by two big inside runs from Mike Lombardi (145 yards). But McCarty’s deep ball down the left sideline was intercepted by Alexander, who outleaped and outwrestled Murphy at the 6 with 38 seconds left.

“He was tall. He was physical,” the 6-foot Alexander said of the 6-6 Murphy. “We both touched the ball. He pulled. I pulled harder.”

Chris Collier (208 yards on 17 carries), who earlier scored on a 67-yard run, then broke away for a clinching 94-yard touchdown.

The entire game was a push-and-pull tug-of-war between two hard-hitting defenses. Jack LaVache was terrific for Wantagh with 13 tackles, including two sacks among his four tackles for loss. Jason Corso and Jake Castellano had eight tackles each.

“We struggled offensively, except for those two big runs,” Lawrence coach Joe Martillotti said. “I’ve been telling them that at some point, our defense will win us a championship. Today it did.”

Wantagh led 10-7 at halftime, thanks to a 25-yard field goal by Bret Pine and a 13-yard TD pass from McCarty to D’Onofrio with 51 seconds left in the second quarter. The Warriors’ defense was nearly as stingy as the Golden Tornadoes’, which made Alexander’s steal the offensive play of the game.

“We love playing a physical game like this one,” said Stays, a 6-3, 230-pound linebacker. “I was going all out on every play. I just kept going and going.”

Stays had two solo sacks in the first half and a shared sack in the fourth quarter. He would’ve had one more in the final minutes, but just as he was about to hammer McCarty, he was held, drawing a flag.

“He’s a big kid who’s strong with a good motor,” Martillotti said. “We don’t use him much on offense so he can use his motor on defense. He’s hard to block. He draws one or two holding flags every game.”

For Alexander, it was more finesse than force that produced the stunning, game-turning play. “We knew what was coming. He knew what was coming,” Martillotti said.

So the Golden Tornadoes survived, by hook or by crook.

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