The Plainedge football team suspected that the final hurdle on the way to a Long Island championship was going to be the hardest to clear. Walking into the locker room at halftime with a deficit on Friday served to confirm that. And that is a big reason why the Red Devils’ comeback victory was so satisfying.
Plainedge rolled into the Long Island Class III championship game virtually unchallenged. The Red Devils’ average margin of victory was 35 points, they had posted seven shutouts and they had trailed for less than two minutes. Needing to come back late was the one thing they had not done.
But Plainedge scored 19 unanswered points in the third quarter and then devoured the final 9:04 of the fourth with a 17-play drive as it posted a 26-16 victory over East Islip at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium. The Red Devils completed a 12-0 season with their second Long Island championship.
"We knew this would be the hardest game of the year," senior Vince Licata said. "This was one we had to reach down for, but we weren’t intimidated."
Added senior Dylan Pepe: "You look around in that locker room and you know there isn’t anything we can’t overcome if we do it together. We got challenged and we responded."
The Devils went 65 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter for an 11-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Travis Shaver and a 13-10 lead. On the ensuing possession, Licata read the coverage perfectly, picked off Derek Burrell's pass and returned it 20 yards to the East Islip 2. Joe Iadevaio leaped over potential tacklers for a 2-yard score and a 20-10 lead.
On the next snap, Pepe recovered Burrell's fumble at the East Islip 34. Five plays later, he broke a pair of tackles and dived into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown and a 26-10 margin.
"It was pretty hard to swallow," Burrell said of the turnovers.
In the final suffocating drive, on fourth-and-25, Shaver dived for the final yards in a 27-yard run that picked up a first down. It allowed him to take a knee on the last two snaps.
"That was him being a grown man to make that run," said coach Rob Shaver, Travis’ father. "It was as big a run as any in the game and he delivered."
Pepe carried 13 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns, Shaver rushed 15 times for 93 yards and a score and Anthony Morello and Thomas Everding each had a pair of tackles behind the line of scrimmage as Plainedge amassed seven of them.
Burrell rushed for 151 yards and a TD and was 6-for-8 passing for 57 yards and a score for East Islip (10-2).
The Red Devils trailed 10-7 at the half, but it could have been much worse if not for a superb defensive play by Licata.
With the score tied 7-7, Burrell slipped through the fingers of a pair of would-be tacklers and broke away down the left sideline for what seemed destined to be a 64-yard touchdown, but Licata ran him down from behind and tripped him up at the Plainedge 10. East Islip had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Kevin Smith on the last play of the half.
Rob Shaver called it "the biggest play of the game," but there were plenty more to come in the second half as both offense and defense rose to the challenge.
After Travis Shaver took a knee on the last play, the Devils on the sideline raced onto the field to mob the players there. Then Shaver broke away for a long embrace with his father.
"It was great to do this with him two years ago and it was great to do it with him again in his last high school football game and with him being the man," Rob Shaver said. "He’s an incredible guy. With him, my wife and I? One and one didn’t equal two — it equaled 10."
"This was incredible," Travis Shaver said. "What a great way for us to finish our time together."