It took 40 years to get back to a Nassau title game, but the 2014 version of the Syosset football team Thursday night showed the kind of resolve and resiliency that go a long way toward creating a winner.
The sixth-seeded Braves trailed for more than three quarters in Thursday night's Nassau I title game against top-seeded and undefeated Baldwin. But with the ball in the capable hands of junior quarterback William Hogan, the title was theirs for the taking in the final minutes. And Syosset took it.
In the biggest drive in 40 years of Syosset football, Hogan engineered a six-play, 55-yard scoring march capped by Ian Berg's 2-yard run with 3:19 left that gave the Braves a 26-20 win over Baldwin before more than 4,000 at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
Syosset (7-4), which dropped Baldwin to 10-1, is the first team to advance to the Long Island Class I championship game with four losses. The Braves will face the winner of tonight's Suffolk I final between Patchogue-Medford and Lindenhurst.
"We've really started to jell and believe in ourselves," said Paul Rorke, whose Braves have won six of their past seven games. "With Will at quarterback, we've really come together after a tough start to the season."
Syosset started slowly and finished strongly Thursday night, a microcosm of the way the season went. The Braves, who started 1-3, scored two touchdowns in the final 4:57 for the win.
After Hogan hit Alex Concannon with a 14-yard scoring strike, the Braves orchestrated the perfect onside kick at their own 45. Ryan Donley recovered it to set up the winning score.
"We made all the big plays in the second half," linebacker E.J. Aronson said. "I can't say enough about the way we played defense and gave our offense, which can be unstoppable, a chance."
Hogan, who moved into the school district in August from Reno, Nevada, would not be denied, shaking off a big hit from Kadeem Langhorne on the final drive to finish the job.
Just before Hogan delivered a 19-yard strike to Concannon to the Baldwin 15, Langhorne lowered the boom on him, sending the Syosset fan section into silence with 3:53 left.
"I've had a bad shoulder and it popped out," said Hogan, who completed 24 of 41 passes for 287 yards and two TDs. "We called a timeout and it popped back in and I was ready to go."
On the winning drive, Hogan completed 3 of 4 passes for 40 yards and handed off to Berg for 13 and 2 yards on consecutive carries, with the latter rush giving Syosset a 24-20 lead. Hogan then passsed to Dave Reiter for the two-point conversion.
Before Hogan's heroics, Langhorne looked as if he had turned glory Baldwin's way. In two plays early in the fourth quarter, he switched jerseys and then he switched gears.
Langhorne blocked a potential tying extra point after Syosset crept to within 13-12 on Hogan's short touchdown run. On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Langhorne changed from jersey No. 68 to No. 33 and burst over right tackle to rumble 68 yards for a touchdown and a 20-12 lead with 10:39 left.
Can you say Superman?
Syosset had its own super tandem in receivers Michael Elardo and Berg, who caught a 16-yard TD pass. Elardo, who set the Long Island record for yards receiving in a single season, finished with eight catches for 111 yards. He raised his total to 1,343, breaking the record of 1,269 yards set by Commack's Bryan Tornee in 2000.
"My receivers get into open space when I'm scrambling and make it easy for me," Hogan said. "And on the biggest plays with the most pressure, they were there for me."
And Syosset is a champion.