Senior Tim Mullane wasn’t expected to play on Saturday. West Islip is glad he did.
Mullane, a defensive tackle, bull-rushed the Bellport offensive line and buried quarterback Jim Morrell for his third sack of the game with seven seconds remaining to seal West Islip’s thrilling 17-14 come-from-behind win before a crowd of more than 3,000 Saturday in a Suffolk Division II semifinal playoff game.
West Islip kicker Kevin DiCapua drilled a 25-yard field goal with 8:17 remaining for the win.
Mullane, who finished with 11 tackles, wasn’t sure if he’d play this week after suffering a left knee injury in last week’s quarterfinal win.
“It was all or nothing on that play,” said Mullane, getting the brace and tape removed from his knee after the game. “He’s (Morrell) so elusive and our game plan was to keep him in the pocket. Our guys did the job on the outside and I just ran over the guy in front of me.”
West Islip (10-0) will meet Half Hollow Hills West (8-2) for the Suffolk II championship at Stony Brook University on Saturday at noon.
“Mullane is a leader in every regard,” said West Islip coach Steve Mileti. “This was a gut check. It was like the old Bellport-West Islip rivalry games loaded with a lot of emotion.”
Mullane’s final charge came after Bellport had driven quickly into scoring position. West Islip had erased a 14-0 second quarter deficit to score 17 unanswered points and here was Bellport ready to take the lead back and make its way to the title game.
Trailing by three points with 2:08 left in the game, the Clippers had moved 53 yards to the West Islip 25 with 24 seconds left. Every play of that drive brought more drama as the clock ticked down. Bellport was on the move — you could feel it. DJ Trent with a fourth down run of four yards for a first down. Daquan Wilson with a spectacular diving catch for 11 yards and a first down. Ben Erkan with a catch and run for 14 yards and a first down.
Now the Clippers had four first downs at the 25, momentum in their favor and the exhausted Lions defense backpedaling and trying to hold on to victory.
But the Clippers hit the proverbial wall of West Islip. The defense that stiffened each time Bellport threatened to run away with this game in the first half remained resolute in the waning seconds.
On first down Morrell is sacked by Brodie Culkin for an 8-yard loss. Second down, Morrell’s deep pass incomplete. Third down, Morrell’s deep pass incomplete. There was blanket coverage everywhere and that set the stage for one final heave.
It never happened.
On fourth down and 18 from the 33, Mullane ended Bellport’s season and sent the Lions to the title game for the first time since 2008. West Islip last won a county championship in 1994.
“He’s made plays like that all season,” Mileti said. “Our defense kept us in the game. Bellport played with a short field the whole first half and we could have been down by 28.”
Morrell found Ben Erkan for a 22-yard touchdown strike and a 6-0 first-quarter lead. And he added a 1-yard run and a two-point conversion pass to DJ Trent for the 14-0 lead with 7:13 left in the half.
But while the offense staggered throughout the first half, the defense kept the Lions in the game. A big sack and two tackles for a loss from defensive end Kevin Kane and a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown from Pat Mulcahy keyed the comeback.
Mulcahy’s pick six came on a pass that went right through the receiver’s hands. He followed a band of blockers on the run down the home sideline for 60 yards and the score. DiCapua added the extra-point kick and West Islip trailed 14-7 with 4:21 left in the half.
“The return gave us life,” said West Islip quarterback Jake Guercio. “And then we made adjustments and opened it up on offense.”
One play after absorbing a late hit and a personal foul, moving the ball out to the Lions’ 36, Guercio threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Carrino. DiCapua’s kick made it 14-14 with 2:59 left in the third quarter.
“Guercio executes when we need him the most,” Mileti said. “That was a great throw.”
The rest was left to the leg of DiCapua, and Mullane and the defense.