Anthony Morello had an inkling about what was going to happen. The Plainedge senior linebacker had just seen Bethpage pull off a nice screen pass for 15 yards, its longest gain from scrimmage for the day. His instincts were rewarded when the Golden Eagles tried another; he was right there to pick it off.
Morello’s 40-yard touchdown return on the interception was the apropos final cadence of a dominant defensive performance as Plainedge blanked Bethpage, 27-0, in the Nassau Conference III championship game at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium on Friday night.
"When I saw it hanging up there, my eyes got big and lit up," Morello said. "Then it was just ‘take it to the house.’ "
Plainedge (11-0) is the Nassau III champion for the fifth time and first since 2019. The Red Devils have won three of the last four titles and will face Suffolk III champion East Islip (10-1) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the Long Island Class III championship game at Hofstra.
How overpowering was the Plainedge defense? Bethpage ran 41 plays and gained only 35 yards. The athletic and swarming Plainedge defenders totaled 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and made three interceptions. Bethpage’s average field position was its own 26 and the Golden Eagles snapped the ball only twice inside Plainedge territory.
The Red Devils have outscored three postseason opponents 121-0. This was their seventh shutout this season.
"We were getting through [their line] and going to them," Plainedge coach Rob Shaver said. "Our guys are good athletes across the board and they come to play . . . you saw that. We gave them a hard time getting past the 50, and that’s a real accomplishment."
Morello was one of several defensive headliners with the interception and a team-high 10 tackles. Shane Mosia was in on a bunch of big plays with eight tackles (2.5 for a loss) and a sack. Vinny Cavaliere and Steven Frenger added interceptions for Plainedge.
"You see nothing but fear from the other team when we play defense like this," Mosia said. "They don’t want to be out there when you keep sticking them in the backfield real hard. They get up slow. They’re afraid to run another play. They’re lost."
The Red Devils were versatile and solid when they had the ball, rolling up 345 yards and averaging seven yards per snap, but the performance wasn’t exactly a masterpiece. On three different occasions, Plainedge had touchdowns taken off the board because of penalties.
Joe Iadevaio had 113 yards rushing, but his 49-yard touchdown in the first quarter was nullified by a holding call; Travis Shaver scored on a 1-yard run later in the possession.
In the second quarter, Cavaliere made an athletic interception and returned it 20 yards to the Bethpage 12. Two plays later, Mosia scored on an 8-yard run.
Plainedge’s 14-0 lead at the break could have been much bigger, but a couple of stout defensive stands by Bethpage — which was led by Brian Luzzi’s 13 tackles — got the Red Devils to turn the ball over on downs twice, snuffing threats at the Eagles’ 22 and 16.
In the middle of the third quarter, Plainedge went 50 yards in three plays, with Pepe scoring on a 9-yard run.
Travis Shaver, back from a hamstring injury, ran for 68 yards and was 10-for-15 passing for 135 yards for Plainedge.
This was Plainedge’s fourth straight appearance in the Nassau III final. In the coronavirus- displaced spring season in the 2020-21 academic year, Plainedge fell to Manhasset in the title game.
"Losing that game has been kind of pushing us all year," Pepe said. "We’ve got one more game left to finish the job."
"It’ll be the biggest game of our lives," Iadevaio said. "We can’t wait."