Ryan Paolella came off the edge and dove toward the Patchogue-Medford punter. Just as foot met ball, Paolella’s left hand rejected the kick toward the Raiders end zone. In a flash, Sachem East teammate Jason Bruno pounced on the blocked punt and returned it 27 yards for the score.
The special teams gem came only 1:51 into the game, the first of a number of big plays that carried Sachem East past previously undefeated Patchogue-Medford, 30-17, Friday night in a Suffolk Division I football game.
“I slapped it down with my left hand,” said Paolella, who blocked three kicks a year ago. “I get off the snap quick and get back there. And Jay was all over the ball. It was a huge start and we needed it against a very physical team.”
Bruno, who had a team-high nine tackles, including three for a loss, was elated with his first touchdown.
“I don’t get any touches on offense, so I play all out on defense,” he said. “To score one on the defensive side is a great way to contribute. And it gave us so much energy.”
Patchogue-Medford (4-1) dominated time of possession in the first half but couldn’t finish long drives. The Raiders went on a 16-play, 71-yard march and settled for a 37-yard field goal. Jack Montalvo drilled the kick to get the Raiders within 7-3 with 3:53 left in the half. The drive lasted 9:07 and included five first downs.
“Two mistakes really cost us in the first half,” Patchogue-Medford coach Gary Marangi said. “We had a missed assignment and they blocked a punt for a score. And we lined up wrong and the runner found a seam and they went for a long touchdown. It’s really disappointing because we played well otherwise.”
Sachem East responded to the field goal with four straight runs for positive yardage from its own 20 as the first-half clock wound down. On a simple off-tackle blast on second-and-7, halfback Adriel Robinson used a big block from left tackle Tyler Price and raced 56 yards for a touchdown with 1:03 left in the half.
“We didn’t have the ball in the first quarter and we finally had the ball and we were running the clock,” Sachem East coach Phil Torregrosa said. “And our left side with Tyler Price and Dan Pearo blew open a nice hole for Adriel.”
Sachem East took a 15-3 lead into the half despite the lopsided time of possession. The Flaming Arrows had the ball for only 4:49. Patchogue-Medford, controlled the ball for 19:11, and ran 29 plays to Sachem’s 11. But the Raiders trailed by 12.
“I thought our guys came out and proved we belong in the top of the division,” said Patchogue’s Eric Suda, who had 11 tackles, including five for a loss. “We won up front on the lines, but the scoreboard tells a different story. We made mistakes and they scored.”
The Flaming Arrows (3-2) opened the second half with a seven-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to extend the lead to 22-3. On fourth-and-10 from the Raiders’ 19, quarterback Nick Stelling lofted a beautiful pass over the top of the secondary and into the hands of Rafael Rodriguez Jr. for the score.
Patchogue responded with an eight-play, 63-yard drive capped by an Angelo DeVita 2-yard scoring run. Montalvo’s kick made it 22-10 with 3:41 left in the third quarter. Angelo DeVita carried 31 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Patchogue’s Jonathan Lally recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Sachem East 23 and a few plays later, DeVita scored from 8 yards to get within 22-17 with 52 seconds left in the third quarter.
Patchogue made a run for the lead with another 12-play drive to the Flaming Arrows’ 27. DeVita was stopped by Bruno a yard shy of the first down with 2:39 left.
Two plays later, Robinson went 70 yards over left tackle for the score to seal it.
“Bruno makes big play after big play,” Torregrosa said. “And we need all of them tonight.”