Mike DeMatteo #20 of Plainedge, second from left, gets mobbed...

Mike DeMatteo #20 of Plainedge, second from left, gets mobbed by teammates after scooping up a blocked Wantagh field goal attempt and returning it 71 yards for a touchdown as time expired in the second quarter of the Nassau County football Conference III final at Shuart Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. Credit: James Escher

James Kass stands 5-8 and Mike DeMatteo 5-7. In the Plainedge constellation of stars, they sometimes are easy to miss. Not so on Saturday.

Kass and DeMatteo burned brighter than all the rest as they combined to make the biggest play against Wantagh and helped the Red Devils ascend to the throne again in their 38-13 victory at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.

Their moment came at the very end of the first half.

Plainedge had dominated its opponents all season, but Wantagh was threatening to turn the Nassau Conference III championship game into a very competitive contest. It had held the Red Devils to a field goal and a punt on back-to-back possessions and now was moving the ball.

With three seconds left in the second quarter and Plainedge up 10, Wantagh’s Niko Zervos lined up for a 39-yard field goal. And that’s when it happened.

Kass found an open lane to the placement and laid out to block it. DeMatteo snagged it and raced 71 yards for a touchdown as the Red Devils went up 17-0.

“To make a play like that in a game this big, it feels amazing,” Kass said.

“I was in a position for if they tried a trick play and it came right to me,” DeMatteo said. “I wasn’t worried I’d get caught [from behind] because it was our whole team running down the field together with me.”

“They made a huge play and it changed everything,” Wantagh coach Keith Sachs said. “We were starting to play well and I was excited at the idea of being down just a touchdown at halftime. It’s frustrating to go from that to down 17 so quick.”

Plainedge (11-0) became a county champion for the eighth time, capturing the crown for the second straight year and the fourth time in five seasons.

The Red Devils will face Suffolk III champion Sayville (11-0) in next Saturday’s Long Island Class III title game at noon at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium. Plainedge will be seeking its third Long Island championship.

Plainedge scored touchdowns on its first two possessions after halftime and cruised from there. Joe Cassese had a 5-yard scoring run and Vinny Cavaliere added a 37-yard TD run.

Cassese finished with 142 rushing yards on 17 carries, including a 24-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Domenico Moscato had a 3-yard touchdown run and James Corke kicked a 24-yard field goal and went 5-for-5 on extra points. Corke has made all 61 of his extra-point attempts this season.

Nick Cupelli carried 17 times for 141 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown, and quarterback Joseph Legovich had a 1-yard touchdown run for Wantagh (9-2).

Through Saturday, Plainedge had been riding the exploits of Cassese, Cavaliere and Shane Mosia as well as the outstanding line play of TJ Chadwick, Marcelo Licata, Vinny Trovato, Vinny Petzold and Vinny Cito. Kass and DeMatteo reminded everyone that its special teams cannot be ignored.

“They came through with a super-critical play,” Cassese said. “We play hard in all phases of the game. It can demoralize [an opponent] when they never get a break.”

“Those two guys play a lot of ‘specials,’ and when people like that are contributing, it makes [for] great teams,” Plainedge coach Rob Shaver said. “When a team is getting contributions from other guys who aren’t necessarily the tailback or quarterback? Nothing’s better than that.”

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