Though Syosset faced late fourth-quarter deficits three times during the playoffs, not once did the Braves consider the situation desperate. A lot of buttons were pushed on the way to the school's first Long Island championship. The word "panic'' was not etched on any of them.
"There was never any panic,'' Syosset coach Paul Rorke said. "The kids kept coming to play and just did their job. They focused on the moment and on what they had to do. They weren't thinking about the score of the game or the situation. Some of those situations were difficult to come back from, but we were fortunate to make plays that are impossible to practice. You can't mirror that tension.''
The tension began in a quarterfinal against MacArthur when William Hogan hit Michael Elardo with a 20-yard touchdown pass in overtime for the winner after the Braves tied it late in regulation.
The tension was ratcheted even higher in the semifinals when Syosset trailed East Meadow 30-28 in the final minute. Hogan and Elardo hooked up again, this time for a brilliant 27-yard touchdown, with Elardo making a slick maneuver to beat a defender to the ball in the end zone with 11 seconds left.
In the county final against previously unbeaten Baldwin, the Braves trailed for most of the game but marched 55 yards for the winning score, a 2-yard run by Ian Berg with 3:19 left.
"One doesn't stand out,'' Rorke said of the three dramatic comebacks. "It's difficult to put into words what they accomplished.''
Syosset avoided any late theatrics in the Long Island Class I championship game, easily turning back Lindenhurst, 35-13, to become the first four-loss team to win a Long Island title. The team started 1-3, but Hogan -- who moved to Syosset from Reno, Nevada, last summer -- took over the starting quarterback job and it became a Brave new world. The school hadn't captured a football title since winning the county crown in 1974.
Along the way, Hogan threw for 2,401 yards and 22 touchdowns and Elardo set Long Island records for receiving yards (1,421) and touchdown receptions (19).
"They formed a bond,'' Rorke said. "They trusted each other, and those big moments late in games were built on that trust.''
E.J. Aronson anchored an opportunistic defense and made seven tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in the Long Island championship game. He joined Hogan and Elardo as Newsday first-team All-Long Island selections.
"It's been terrific, really special for the kids,'' Rorke said. "Those wins -- in dramatic fashion -- and to win a Long Island championship is something they'll have for the rest of their lives. The faculty, the student body, the community, everybody had a piece of it."