Anthony Paolino always believed the Mepham football team would walk off the field with a victory on Saturday afternoon, but he was still surprised by the way the Pirates won.
Mepham held on for a 35-34 overtime victory over MacArthur in Nassau II after the Generals' extra point attempt sailed wide of the post. It wasn’t a perfect win, but it was a win and that was all Paolino and his teammates cared about.
“It was crazy,” said Paolino, who scored the go-ahead touchdown on Mepham's opening possession of overtime. “But we never gave up. We’re going to fight until the whistle blows.”
Paolino gave Mepham a 34-28 lead on the second play of overtime, hauling in a pass from Billy Kender and dodging defenders up the sideline for a 20-yard touchdown. Cory Lichtman kicked the extra point. It was Mepham's first lead since the end of the first quarter.
“It felt like everything was in slow motion,” Paolino said. “Billy threw me a picture-perfect ball, right in my hands and I turned up field.”
Mepham (5-2) struggled to control tempo all game, but the Pirates also responded to every one of MacArthur’s offensive pushes.
The Generals opened the third quarter with a 14-play, 53-yard drive that took just over ten minutes off the clock. Matt Cummings capped off the possession with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving MacArthur a 28-21 lead with 1:53 in the third.
Still, the Pirates refused to back down.
“I was worried because you look up and suddenly the quarter is gone,” Mepham coach Anthony Cracco said. “But the kids didn’t get rattled. They settled in and kept playing football.”
Mepham tied the game at 28 on its ensuing possession, marching down the field on a 16-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Matt Hegi’s 1-yard touchdown run. It was enough to give the Pirates a boost of confidence and the certainty that they could pull off the victory.
“We’ve been in big situations like this before,” said Kender, who completed 12-of-22 passes for 147 yards. “You’ve got to take advantage of what you’ve got and that’s what we did.”
Mepham jumped out to a quick lead in overtime, but MacArthur (5-2) refused to go down quietly as Hugh Kelleher scored from six yards out to keep the Generals in the game.
Mepham, however, had other plans. The Pirates didn’t block the extra point, but the defensive line was able to bring pressure, getting a few bodies into the backfield and doing its best to make a play.
Although it might not have been the way Mepham drew it up, the victory was still a big one as the Pirates prepare for the last week of regular season and, they hope, a deep playoff run.
“[MacArthur] is a really good football team and we just managed to make one more play in the end than they did,” Cracco said. “It’s a great win for the kids, they fought hard all day.”