The Sayville-East Islip football showdown of undefeated teams more than lived up to the hype. It exceeded all expectations.
Two teams with high-octane offenses did not disappoint the more than 4,000 fans who came out for Homecoming Day in Sayville.
They witnessed the home team fall behind by 14 points and claw their way back into the contest that saw four lead changes, 1,039 yards of offense, 13 touchdowns, and next-level execution of offensive strategy.
This one was special.
And it wasn’t decided until the final seconds when Sayville defensive back Mack Murtha secured his second interception at the Golden Flashes' 32 yard line to seal a 51-44 win in a Suffolk Division III football game at Joe Buderman Field.
The win moves Sayville to 6-0 and drops East Islip to 5-1.
The game featured staggering open-field hits, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries and momentum swings that had both sides of the packed bleachers rollicking with enthusiasm. This was a regular season game with a playoff atmosphere, an electric buzz that started from the opening whistle and never waned.
With the game on the line, Sayville put the ball in the hands of a freshman. But this is not any freshman. This is Kyle Messina, who Sayville coach Reade Sands said, ‘may be the best to ever play the position at our school,’ which is saying something considering Notre Dame quarterback and Sayville alum Jack Coan was in attendance.
With a fourth down and goal from the East Islip one-yard line, Messina was in the Wildcat formation to take the snap and run off left guard for the touchdown and a 51-37 lead with 3:28 left.
"He’s getting in the end zone there and we needed to put them away," Sands said. "There’s nothing like Kyle. He’s a potential multi-year Hansen Award winner. He’s a different breed, a super explosive talent that’s been unstoppable."
Messina carried 29 times for 252 yards and four touchdowns.
"This is our first Homecoming in two years and so special for the seniors," Messina said. "This was the game of the year – the one we all wanted to win so badly."
After surrendering the early lead and then a 30-28 lead in the third quarter, East Islip gave Sayville a scare in the final three minutes.
Trailing, 51-37, East Islip drove 70 yards in six plays before quarterback Derek Burrell scored on a 19-yard run to pull them within 51-44.
They recovered the ensuing onside kick and drove to the Golden Flashes 18 before linebacker Benny Sands came on the blitz and forced Burrell from the pocket. His pass under extreme pressure was intercepted by Murtha at the 32 to seal the win.
"Burrell made it tough on us, he’s extraordinary," Sands said. "We made some adjustments at the half to slow them down."
Burrell completed 17 of 25 passes for 277 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed 18 times for 141 yards and a score. Halfback Leo Lopez added 112 yards rushing and two scores.
Messina scored on runs of three and 25 yards to tie the score at 14. Sands mixed the offense with Jack Smalley throwing touchdown passes of 35 yards to Chad Moccio and 37 yards to Murtha for the 28-20 lead with 1:12 left in the half.
East Islip kicker Kevin Smith hit a 34-yard field goal as time expired made it 28-23 at the half.
"We’ve been shuffling our lines trying to find the right mix," said Sayville line coach Jim Knote. "East Islip has an unbelievable front, and our guys executed our game plan perfectly. We blocked well from the tight ends to the fullbacks to the line."
Lopez, who had a 53-yard run for a second quarter score, opened the third quarter with a 68-yard touchdown run and East Islip led 30-28.
"He’s so tough but we started coming off the edge harder and bending the line to get on his legs before he could get going," said defensive end Tom Cea Jr. "We forced a few short punts, and then our O-line took over."
Messina capped a long drive with a 13-yard scoring run to forge a 36-30 lead and Cea Jr. added a 1-yard scoring run for the 43-30 advantage with 2:09 left in the third.
"I’m extremely proud of our guys for responding against a great East Islip team," Sands said.