Syosset quarterback William Hogan grabbed the championship trophy and lifted it high above his head. He turned to the enormous Syosset crowd at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium, and for the first time in 40 years, Braves fans let out a championship roar.
That's right: Syosset hadn't captured a title since it won the county championship in 1974.
That was true until Friday, when a swarming defense led by end E.J. Aronson helped Syosset cruise to a 35-13 win over Lindenhurst in the Long Island Class I championship game before a crowd of more than 6,000. It was the first appearance for both teams in the Class I title game since the game's inception in 1992.
Syosset (8-4), which got off to a 1-3 start, reeled off seven wins in its final eight games. The Braves' playoff roll included wins over perennial playoff contenders MacArthur, East Meadow and Baldwin for the Nassau Conference I crown.
Then the Braves knocked off Lindenhurst (9-3), which had won eight straight. And they dominated, taking a 35-0 lead.
"We'd told them since the preseason that we had something special with this group," Syosset coach Paul Rorke said. "Getting them to believe in themselves wasn't really that difficult. And then we won some exciting games in the fourth quarter, got on a roll and this became a reality. They truly believed they would win. And I wouldn't say we executed the perfect game plan, but it was close."
In a game in which Syosset returned two interceptions for touchdowns and scored on three straight possessions between the second and third quarters, a first-quarter defensive stop turned the momentum.
Lindenhurst employed a short passing game and hard inside running to run off 22 first-quarter plays to Syosset's three. The Bulldogs' game plan was simple: Keep Hogan and the dangerous Syosset offense off the field and control the clock and tempo. But the Braves, who Rorke said "played our finest defense of the season," had other plans.
After both teams went three-and-out to open the game, the Bulldogs took over at their 5-yard line and embarked on a drive that lasted 19 plays and 75 yards and consumed 8:43. Lindenhurst converted on five straight third-down attempts during the drive. But on fourth-and-3 from the 22, the march ended when Aronson came off the left end and stopped halfback Joe Barber a yard short of the first down.
"I came free and got to his legs before he hit the hole," said Aronson, who had seven tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. "All that drive and no points for them, and it left us feeling pretty fired up."
Syosset opened the scoring with a seven-play, 53-yard drive capped by Hogan's 1-yard sneak. The key play came when Ian Berg ran up the middle and bounced outside behind blocks from Aronson and wide receiver Alex Concannon, picking up 25 yards on third-and-1 to the 13.
"I get lost behind the line and follow the great blocks,'' the 5-41/2 Berg said. "Alex sealed the edge and I was off.''
Syosset lined up for the extra point, but Hogan, holder, took the snap and beat a defender to the pylon with 5:28 left in the half for an 8-0 lead.
The Braves extended the lead when wide receiver Michael Elardo outjumped a defender for Hogan's pass on the home sideline and raced 39 yards for the score. Lucas Cotler's kick made it 15-0.
Elardo, who had four catches for 78 yards, owns the Long Island record for yards receiving in a season with 1,421.
Syosset opened the third quarter with a 13-play, 65-yard drive capped by Berg's 2-yard run for a 22-0 lead.
Syosset came up with another big play on Lindy's ensuing possession when defensive back Michael Panvini jumped a route in the middle of the field. His 62-yard interception return for a score made it 29-0, and it became 35-0 on David Reiter's 18-yard interception return.
"It really hasn't settled in yet, but it will at some point,'' Rorke said. "And we're really going to enjoy it. It's incredible, it's unbelievable.''
Now Rorke and company know the exhilaration of lifting the trophy. It's about time.