The play will go down as one of the greatest in Whitman football history.
The Wildcats, playing in their first semifinal playoff game in 31 years, made the defensive stop of the year. Junior middle linebacker Liam Villanti jarred the ball from quarterback Noah Rattmer on a fourth down run inside the Wildcats one. A mad scramble followed, the fumble scooped by junior Brandon Ivy and returned 99 yards for a touchdown propelling Whitman to a 30-6 win over Longwood in a Suffolk Conference I semifinal playoff in Huntington Station.
The win helped Whitman snap a seven-game losing streak to Longwood that dated back to 1985.
The first quarter turnover set the tone for Whitman’s first playoff win since 1990 and moved the Wildcats into the Suffolk Conference I title game against Floyd on Friday at 5 p.m. in Mastic Beach.
"That defensive play was a 14-point swing and gave us all the momentum in the first quarter," said Whitman coach Robin Rosa in his 11th season. "Villanti knocked it out and Ivy was in the right place at the right time. Then it was an exciting foot race for the length of the field to make it a two-score game. It was a play that took your breath away."
The key play stole the momentum Longwood had built on its long drive for the potential tying score.
"We watched that play on film and I knew they were coming right up the middle and at me," said Villanti, who had two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. "I stood the center up on the block and punched the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. And Ivy was right on it." The Whitman defense forced six turnovers and never allowed the Lions back in the game.
"That’s a long time losing to the same team," Rosa said. "We lost a 20-17 heartbreaker to them a year ago. And our guys wanted the chance to play them again. This one feels really good."
Whitman (4-1) opened the scoring on a Tim Hunter 19-yard run and the extra-point kick from Josh Arevalo early in the first quarter.
"We worked all summer to be in this position," said Hunter. "It was all gas no brakes. We’re always the underdogs here at Whitman and we know that. But we also knew we had an excellent all-around team for this season and we’re proving it."
After Ivy’s defensive gem for the 14-point first quarter lead, senior linebacker Sean Bock jumped a short rout for an interception at the Longwood 25. A few plays later, Whitman quarterback Nicholas Bottoni found a wide-open Hunter in the middle of the defense for a 16-yard touchdown pass and the 20-0 lead with 9:08 left in the half.
"We’re an opportunistic team," Rosa said. "We forced quite a few turnovers and we capitalized."
Arevalo added a 24-yard field goal for the 23-0 halftime lead.
Longwood (2-3) recovered an onside kick to start the second half to set up their lone score. Halfback Abeid Thomas went on a 28-yard touchdown run where he trucked the safety before bulling into the end zone to make it 23-6.
Whitman’s Rasahn Thompson stopped the Lions next drive with a leaping interception. And halfback A.J. Evans capped a 55-yard scoring drive with an impressive 41-yard touchdown run for the 30-6 lead. Evans broke two tackles and bounced outside before he dipped inside to fake a defender and then run down the visitor’s sideline for the score.
"Evans is just a mini-wrecking ball," said Hunter. "He’s a little beast and so elusive when he has the ball. I love watching him run."
And now the Wildcats will play for the championship.