The coaches yelled it from the sideline throughout the game. "Critical moment! Critical moment!''
Apparently, Miller Place's players were listening. The Panthers, seeded No. 1 in Suffolk III for the first time, made numerous big plays, especially in the second half, and defeated visiting Islip, 28-7, Wednesday in the opener for both teams.
"It's our theme. We emphasize critical plays and we know if we make all of them, we'll win games,'' said running back/defensive back Brett Osman, who redeemed himself after a fumble to produce two critical moments in the third quarter.
With the Panthers leading 14-7 and having driven to the Islip 3, Osman fumbled at the goal line, where the Buccaneers' Nick Finnegan recovered. "After that, I knew I had to make something happen,'' Osman said.
On Islip's next possession, Osman came up from his cornerback spot to upend Wynell Michaud a yard short of a first down on a third-down sweep, forcing a punt. On the Panthers' next play from scrimmage, Osman scooted down the left sideline for a 44-yard touchdown that he finished with a flourish, diving into the end zone over the last Islip defender.
"I was trying to erase my mistake. It was a trap play and I saw a lineman slant inside, so I bounced it outside,'' said Osman, who had 86 yards on 11 carries. "I cut left and then down the sideline. I jumped over the last guy. I guess I got a little excited.''
His teammate Austin Yezarski had provided a genuine burst of excitement after a stodgy 7-7 first half punctuated by turnovers on both sides. In his first game on special teams, Yezarski took the second-half kickoff up the middle, angled to his right and raced untouched 95 yards to score.
"Coming out of the locker room, I felt that as a senior, I should put the team on my back,'' Yezarski said. "The blocks were set and I just followed them. It was fun. It was definitely a turning point.''
Miller Place's defense supplied numerous critical moments, except during the game's opening drive, when Islip marched 65 yards in 15 plays consuming 8:46 to score on Michaud's 17-yard run. The Panthers sacked Kieran Mullins five times, dropped him for losses four times on designed runs and came up with three interceptions, two by Nicco Narbutas.
He returned the first 27 yards to set up an 8-yard TD by Jake Buonairuto that tied it. Buonairuto (six carries, 78 yards) concluded the scoring with a 25-yard burst in the fourth.
"I didn't like how we started, but I liked how we finished.'' Miller Place coach Ron Petrie said. "The second half was very pleasing.''
There was nothing to be critical of.