The ball sailed over the head of the intended receiver and MacArthur defensive back James Hegel grabbed his second interception of the game. It was Hegel's sixth theft in two games against Mepham this season and enabled MacArthur to seal a 21-18 win over the Pirates in a Nassau Conference II football semifinal at Hofstra University late Saturday night.
"It's pretty amazing when one guy can do that much damage," said MacArthur coach Bobby Fehrenbach. "It's actually really unbelievable. he's in the right spot all the time. And we needed that stop there because they had a nice kickoff return and were moving the ball again."
MacArthur (9-1) will meet Garden City (10-0) for the Nassau II crown Saturday at Hofstra University at 4 p.m.
MacArthur halfback James Napoli made that appearance possible when he extended the ball over the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:19 left for the 19-18 lead. Quarterback Ryan Muller added the two-point conversion run for the final margin.
It was Napoli’s second short touchdown run. The winning score was set up by a Muller to Matt Papach 27-yard pass to the Pirates 6-yard line.
"We had to grind this one out," Fehrenbach said. "I thought the pass to Papach was a great throw. But the angle also looked like the backer might step in front of the pass and intercept - it was close."
MacArthur struggled to contain Mepham quarterback Nick Honerkamp who had 266 all-purpose yards. Honerkamp opened the scoring with a 54-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Thier for the 6-0 Pirates lead.
The Generals responded when Muller found Hegel for a 53-yard touchdown pass and Matt Sarni's extra-point kick gave them the 7-6 lead.
Mepham's speedy halfback Dylan Dunn scored on a 21-yard run for the 12-7 lead with 4:04 left in the half but MacArthur came right back with a long scoring drive capped by a Napoli 1-yard touchdown run for the 13-12 halftime lead.
Honerkamp 4-yard touchdown run with 4:43 left in the third quarter. The Pirates two-point conversion run was stopped and they led 18-13. Thier's 24-yard reception to the MacArthur 4 set up the score.
"Mepham really came out strong and they must have outgained us by quite a bit," Fehrenbach said. "But our guys showed a lot of character and hung in there to get the win.
Mepham totaled 356 yards of total offense and MacArthur was held to 194.
The winning drive was set up by a Vincent Fundaro fumble recovery at the Mepham 34 with 4:24 left.
"We made the big plays when we needed them," Fehrenbach said. "And we're back in the final."