"Meant to be."
Those are the three words that were the final analysis of this season’s Massapequa football team made by coach Kevin Shippos on the turf at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium following its white-knuckle 38-35 victory over Whitman in the Long Island Class I championship game.
"Massapequa has so many great athletes and the high school has this top-to-bottom winning culture," 11th year coach Shippos said. "I’ve had some great teams. But the teams before this one maybe didn’t have what it took or it just wasn’t meant to be. This is a group that gets it done. They got better and better and played their best football at the right time."
Massapequa (11-1) won the Nassau Conference I title for the 2020-21 school year in a season that was truncated and misplaced into the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. And there was no chance to play on a stage so big or in a game of this heft because COVID-19 cancelled the Long Island Championships.
The win wasn’t clinched until the game’s final play when freshman placekicker Alex Chillemi — yes, a freshman — turned a perfect snap from senior Ryan Fountain and a perfect hold by sophomore Joe Fazio into the winning 20-yard field goal.
But it gave ’Pequa a third Long Island crown and first since 1994.
It is hard to single out the performance of one player in Massapequa’s season that was the catalyst for its success. The team was a true ensemble: exceptional two-way linemen like senior Jakob Menichini; hard-hitters like senior linebacker/running back Michael D’Alessandro and senior linebacker Jared Howes; and thrilling two way athletes like seniors wideout/defensive back Luke Ciolino and running back/defensive back Jake Ciolino.
However senior quarterback Ryan Heidrich answered the biggest question entering the season and became essential to what Massapequa accomplished. The 6-3 senior spent two seasons as the backup signalcaller. When he got his shot, he made the most of it. Calm and cool in the heat of competition, he completed 65% of his passes for 2,299 yards and 25 touchdowns against three interceptions and rushed for nine more scores.
"I never felt I couldn’t do the job," Heidrich said. "I had a lot of confidence in myself and I had an incredible team to work with."
As Massapequa became the powerhouse many expected, the specter of a 27-yard drought on Long Island championships began to follow it.
"We definitely carried that weight around: 27 years," D’Alessandro said. "That's a long time and you hear it a lot. There were a bunch of alumni from the last championship team that came and talked to us this season. We saw how special it is and we needed to win, not only for us, but everyone else who was part of this program."
Most championship stories — even the wire-to-wire ones — have a moment where things can go either way. That came for Massapequa in the final week of the regular season as it sought its first undefeated campaign in 27 seasons, also that last time it won at the LIC.
Farmingdale won a battle for a single yard on the final play to beat ’Pequa, 30-28.
"That was the wake-up call for this group," Shippos said. "This group has been capable of anything since the start of the season. That loss put them on track to win the championship."
ROAD TO THE CLASS I CHAMPIONSHIP
Nassau quarterfinal – Port Washington, 43-22
Nassau semifinal – Farmingdale, 28-7
Nassau final – Oceanside, 35-26
Long Island Class I final – Whitman, 38-35