The Charter buses carrying Long Island’s first state football champion arrived in the St. Anthony’s school parking lot in sleepy South Huntington at 4 a.m. Thursday.
There was no fire engine escort and no welcoming party.
The Friars bus emptied into a lot of prideful but exhausted parents, most of whom had also traveled the seven hours to the shores of Lake Erie to support the team making its first appearance in the Catholic High School state championship in Hamburg, N.Y.
Just eight hours earlier, St. Anthony’s had scored four touchdowns in the final 13 minutes to erase a 20-point deficit and produce a wild 27-20 comeback win over St. Francis of Buffalo to capture the CHSFL Class AAA state crown.
A Friars offense that could not gain any traction for nearly three quarters found a spark and scored 27 unanswered points for the improbable win.
The game’s final play was St. Francis quarterback Steve Otremba stepping up into the pocket from the Friars 24-yard line and zeroing in on his receiver in the end zone. As Otremba set to throw, defensive end Thomas Mackell stripped the ball from his grip as the final seconds ticked off the clock. A euphoric celebration ensued.
“As bad as it looked midway through the third quarter our guys never gave up,” St. Anthony’s coach Joe Minucci said. “They continued to grind and believe. This win will go down as an all-timer.”
A crowd of more than 1,000 braved snow squalls and 52 mile per hour winds that sent the real feel into the teens to witness the biggest comeback in state final history.
“It was the coldest, windiest conditions we’ve ever played in,” St. Anthony’s quarterback Dante Torres said. “It was ridiculous. Our defense and special teams played a great second half to make the comeback possible. We made the right adjustments and pulled it out.”
Torres scored on two short runs and halfback Frank Ruta added two scoring runs. Ruta ran for 138 yards on 19 carries.
To advance to the state final, St. Anthony’s (11-1) upended powerhouse Iona Prep, 50-18, to claim the Catholic crown. Torres totaled 509 all-purpose yards in that win, including four touchdown passes to junior wide receiver Korey Duff Jr.
It was a CHSFL-record 15th title for the Friars. Torres finished the season with 32 touchdown passes and 3,327 passing yards, second all-time behind Sayville’s Jack Coan, who had 3,431.
“When we can throw it all over the field, we are a very dangerous offense,” Minucci said. “We had such a good balance with the run and pass this season.”
That balance proved beneficial in the state title game when the Friars' vertical passing game was neutralized by the inclement weather. The O-line stepped up and opened holes for the running game.
The Friars' season may have been defined by a high-octane offense that averaged 44 points per game. But in the championship, it was defense and special teams that keyed an unforgettable second half.
After the awards ceremony in Hamburg, the champs hit the road.
“We had some food and got out of there because they were expecting more bad weather,” Minucci said. “The excitement lasted about an hour on the bus and then they all crashed for the long ride home. It was a great ride.”
Road to the Catholic state championship
CHSFL quarterfinal: Beat Christ The King, 57-34
CHSFL semifinal: Beat Chaminade, 41-15
CHSFL AAA final: Beat Iona Prep,50-18
CHSFL state final: Beat Buffalo St. Francis, 27-20