Babylon and Miller Place waged the kind of regular-season football game that left both sides physically beaten and mentally exhausted.
The first three quarters offered hard hitting and big-time defense. The fourth quarter left the overflow Homecoming Day crowd in Miller Place breathless as the teams combined for five touchdowns and five lead changes.
The final blow came on a perfectly thrown 7-yard hitch route from Babylon’s Scott Sasso that wide receiver Shaun Kaminsky turned into a game-winning 62-yard touchdown as the Panthers came back for a 29-25 win before a crowd of more than 1,100 in a Suffolk Division IV game.
“The throw was right on the money and on time,” Kaminsky said. “I broke the one tackle and that was it.”
It was Babylon’s third touchdown of the final quarter and came with 2:50 left to cap a frenzied pace of scoring. The Panthers defense allowed Miller Place to march to the 24-yard line with 51 seconds left but forced three straight incomplete passes to end it.
“It was high school football at its best, it was fun,” said Sasso, who rushed 27 times for 152 yards and completed 12 of 19 passes for 211 yards. “We exploited the man coverage in some big spots. When we fell behind we were able to pick ourselves up and come right back. It was incredible.”
Miller Place (3-1) held a 7-0 first-half lead after halfback Tyler Ammirato scored the first of his four touchdowns from 41 yards.
On Babylon’s final drive of the half, the Panthers went 67 yards in 17 plays and consumed 7:17, but came away empty-handed after defensive end Alex Herbst stopped Sasso short of the goal line on a fourth down run as time expired.
Babylon (4-0) opened the third quarter with another long, time-consuming drive. Only the result was different. The Panthers went 80 yards in 12 plays, capped by a 5-yard scoring pass from Sasso to Zach Amelia to tie it at 7 with 6:18 left in the quarter. Sasso’s 28-yard run keyed the march.
“He has a nice wiggle to him, he’s very athletic,” Miller Place coach Greg Murphy said. “I thought our guy had a big day, too.”
His guy was Ammirato, who had 301 all-purpose yards. It took Ammirato 13 seconds to untie the score. He returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a score and a 13-7 lead. And the teams traded touchdowns from there.
Babylon responded with another scoring drive. The Panthers went 72 yards in 15 plays with Sasso scoring on a 7-yard run. His extra-point kick made it 14-13 with 10:56 left in the game.
The fourth-quarter touchdown came after Babylon had run 44 consecutive offensive plays for 219 yards and consumed 20:01 spanning the second and fourth quarters. Miller Place did not run an offensive play the entire third quarter.
That fact left Murphy shaking his head.
“We couldn’t get the defense off the field,” Murphy said. “We hung in there but they chewed up the clock.”
Ammirato gave Miller Place the lead again. He burst over right tackle on fourth down and inches and raced 54 yards for a score and a 19-14 lead with 9:47 left.
Sasso needed four plays to retake the lead. He hit wide receiver Jason Carlock for a 36-yard scoring strike to complete an 80-yard drive for a 22-19 lead.
And the theme carried on as Ammirato carried on eight straight plays before scoring from 3 yards out as the Panthers took a 25-22 lead with 4:33 left.
“All week we’ve been saying that we weren’t relevant for the last two years,” said Babylon coach Rick Punzone, who was named the New York Jets Tri-State coach of the week after Babylon’s upset of two-time defending Class IV champion Shoreham-Wading River. “I’m very happy. I told the players on the way home, “now we’re relevant.”
The Miller Place community came together for 10-year-old Jesse Pallas, a three-time cancer survivor, who through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, visited Disney World and Universal Studios. The crowd gave him a rousing ovation as he stood with Marianne Cartisano, the Superintendent of Schools in Miller Place. “We have unofficially adopted Jesse as our own, we love him so much,” Cartisano said. “He was our line leader today for the parade. And he’s a true superhero, a real fighter.”
Pallas showed his school spirit when he yelled, “Go Panthers” into the cordless microphone to the delight of the crowd.