Dom Cassella gave Patchogue-Medford an explosive start when he returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown against top-ranked Longwood, and the Raiders, buoyed by the emotion of that score, never let up Friday night. The seventh-seeded visitors scored 24 first-quarter points and went on to a shocking 38-22 upset win over previously undefeated and top-seeded Longwood in a Suffolk I semifinal football playoff game before a crowd of more than 2,500 in Middle Island.
Patchogue-Medford (6-4), which needed to win its last two games of the regular season to make the postseason, stunned second-seeded Connetquot in a quarterfinal, 29-28, and carried that momentum into Friday night's game. The Raiders became the first No. 7 seed to beat a No. 1 and 2 seed in the playoffs in Long Island history.
"No one gave us a shot, no one," said PM quarterback Rich Ciufo, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more. "We got off to a slow start this season but we always believed in each other. The offensive line was phenomenal."
PM's last Suffolk title came in 2002, a season in which it beat Farmingdale, 27-12, for the Long Island Class I title. The Raiders will face the winner of Saturday's Lindenhurst-Sachem East semifinal in the Suffolk I final at 7 p.m. Friday at Stony Brook.
"This is essentially our fourth playoff game," PM coach Gary Marangi said. "Our whole attitude has changed and we've been playing with an edge. We're enjoying the hitting and we're so much better than the team we were four weeks ago."
What made the final score more shocking was how the PM defense handled Longwood (9-1). The Lions pounded PM, 42-7, during Week 2 of the regular season but were physically outplayed Friday night.
"We answered the bell tonight and our defense played a great game," said defensive back Matt Codispoti, who had a goal-line interception and a fumble recovery.
The Raiders' confidence grew throughout Friday night's encounter.
After Cassella's score, Longwood's Isaiah White ripped off a 62-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 7-7, but Ciufo wasted no time getting the Raiders back on top. On the next play from scrimmage, he fired a 50-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field to tight end Andrew Garcia for a 14-7 lead with 9:57 left in the first quarter.
The PM defense came up with a big turnover to help extend the lead. The Raiders forced a fumble on a pitch play that was recovered by Codispoti at the Longwood 20. The turnover resulted in a 31-yard field goal by Tim Jones for a 17-7 lead.
White's 9-yard touchdown run cut the lead to 17-14, but that's when Ciufo took over. He engineered a nine-play, 62-yard scoring drive capped by his 3-yard run. On the next drive, he completed 3 of 3 passes for 34 yards before running 37 yards on a trap play for a 31-14 halftime lead.
"The key was to come out and stop their first drive of the third quarter and set the tone for the second half," said Ciufo, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 232 yards.
White, who rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, rumbled 32 yards to the Raiders' 26, but two plays later, Logan McGinn recovered another fumble on a pitch play at the Raiders' 25.
Ciufo marched the Raiders 75 yards in five plays, lofting a beautiful pump-and-go down the visitors' sideline to a wide-open Mike Baldwin for a 32-yard touchdown and a 38-14 lead.
Then it was left to a swarming defense led by linebacker Sean Murray, defensive back Ron Linsalato, tackle Zach Genaway and tackle Lawrence Omolayo, who recovered a fumble at the Lions' 24 with 2:10 left to seal the win.