Jeremy Ruckert stood on the turf in the cold night air at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium, holding high the trophy that he had been seeking since he was 13 years old. “There are chills running down my body right now,” the Lindenhurst multi-tasker said.
Ruckert scored 16 points and displayed the myriad skills that earned him a scholarship to Ohio State as Lindenhurst defeated Oceanside, 40-23, on Sunday night in the Long Island Class I championship game.
It was the first Long Island Championships victory for the Bulldogs (12-0). Oceanside, in its first LIC appearance, finished 11-1 despite a record-setting performance by quarterback Tommy Heuer and his receivers.
And the Bulldogs couldn’t have done it without Ruckert. “I’m not a vocal guy. I lead by example,” he said.
Example 1: He blocked a field goal late in the second quarter and returned it 61 yards to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Ricky Conway that put Lindenhurst ahead for good at 20-16. “On the previous field goal [a 38-yarder by Francesco Ancona], they cut my legs out from under me, so I told [Conway] that I was going to jump over the guy,” Ruckert said. “It was a great feeling to make a play like that.”
Example 2: With less than two minutes to go in the first half, Lindenhurst coach Nick Lombardo was content to take a 20-16 lead into halftime. Ruckert was not. “I told him to get me the ball,” he said. He made a 35-yard reception on a slant pattern in traffic, and a tack-on roughing-the-passer penalty moved the ball to Oceanside’s 35-yard line. Ruckert added a 16-yard catch on the drive, which ended with his 35-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half.
“I thought he was going to run,” Ruckert said of quarterback Nick Anzalone. “I just went up and made a play.”
Which didn’t surprise his coach. “If you listen to Jeremy, we should never run out the clock,” said Lombardo, who also had chills — from the ice water bath that he was wearing over his jacket. “We were thinking about running it out, but not after he made that great catch over the middle. That kept the drive alive.”
Lombardo said the blocked field goal was the team’s first this season. “It was a big turning point. It gave us a lift,” he said.
So did example 3, perhaps the game’s most spectacular play early in the third quarter. Anzalone (14-for-20 passing, 252 yards, three TDs), was nearly sacked by Michael Scibelli but somehow escaped and lofted a desperation pass that might’ve been intercepted if Ruckert hadn’t channeled his inner Odell Beckham Jr. and made a leaping one-handed catch for a 12-yard gain. That play extended the drive and set up Anzalone’s 8-yard TD pass to Justin Zotto for a 30-16 lead.
Ruckert had five catches for 110 yards, including a 12-yard TD reception late in the first quarter. He kicked two field goals and four extra points, added a block and even had a rebound, when he made a fourth-quarter interception on a ball that caromed off a Sailors receiver. “That’s him,” Lombardo said. “He came to play.”
So did Heuer, who set LIC records for passing attempts (63) and completions (43) and threw for 461 yards and two touchdowns. Derek Cruz set an LIC record with 17 catches for 166 yards, and they were complemented by Jake Lazzaro (14 catches for 180 yards) and Dylan Judd (eight for 98 yards).
The Sailors cut it to 30-23 when Heuer hit Judd for a 14-yard score with 3:38 left in the third. That’s when Zotto put his own stamp on the game, turning a busted pass route into a 19-yard pick-6 and a 37-23 Bulldogs lead.
After that, even Ruckert was fine with trying to run out the clock.
“This was our goal since the summer. I knew we had the team that could do it,” Ruckert said. “I’m never going to forget this moment and sharing it with these guys. You couldn’t write a better story.”