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Levittown Division celebrates 25th anniversary of LI Championship victory

Returning players and coaches assemble at a pre-game

Returning players and coaches assemble at a pre-game ceremony honoring the 1996 Division team that won the Long Island Class II title in Levittown on Friday, October 29, 2021. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

It may have been 25 years ago, but Pat Hegarty remembers those defining moments from the blistering cold night of Nov. 30, 1996 all too vividly.

With the score tied late in the Long Island Class II Championship – only the fifth iteration of the football season’s epic, highly-anticipated intercounty showdown – he intercepted a pass that positioned Levittown Division with one last opportunity to pull off a major upset with 40 seconds remaining against the heavy favorite, defending champion Bellport.

Hegarty then finished off the job himself, converting the go-ahead, 30-yard field goal with seven seconds to go as Division held on for a dramatic 31-28 victory and the Long Island crown at the then-Hofstra Stadium.

Alongside nearly all of his teammates, Hegarty was thrilled to relive those exhilarating memories at Division’s homecoming on Oct. 29. Its squad, which remains the only one in program history to hoist the Long Island Championship plaque, was honored in a pregame ceremony with the quarter-century anniversary of their feat approaching.

"I remember when the interception happened," said Hegarty, who lives in Massapequa and has owned several gyms on the Island. "They were trying to throw it and I baited them. When it came my way it was boom, off to the races. Then I stepped out of bounds because I didn’t want to fumble it so that we still had possession."

A pair of personal fouls by Bellport moved the ball down from their 40-yard line to inside the 13, setting up Hegarty’s fateful moment.

"To be honest, when I lined up for the kick I wasn’t overthinking it," Hegarty recalled. "They tried to ice me but I just told myself to hit it where I would in practice. I made sure I hit it flush and knew it when I hit it.

"The place was so loud and ecstatic. I remember running to the sideline and seeing the jubilation. It was like a culmination of everything in the final moments we would play football together. We did it when we weren’t expected to."

Finishing the season 10-0-1, the Blue Dragons were awarded the Rutgers Cup, given to the top team in Nassau.

Trailing 21-8 at halftime, the Clippers stormed back with 20 unanswered points and led by a touchdown with 5:24 remaining. Division quarterback Pat Rock would drive the Blue Dragons down the field before coach Fred Bruno and his staff went all-in, calling a trick play on fourth and 13 for running back Eric Wedin, who was named the Thorp Award winner as the best player in Nassau that season.

The gadget play selected was a halfback option pass that, according to Bruno and several of his players, they had never executed successfully in practice.

"Pat Rock comes in the huddle and says ‘Take off your glove,’" said Wedin, who resides in Huntington and works in insurance. "Me and everyone else were like, ‘No way, are we actually going to do this?’ And it worked. Tom Bruckbauer was wide open in the end zone. It was the ugliest pass ever and the ball was going sideways, but it connected."

Friday presented the first opportunity for the team to reconvene since their 10-year anniversary celebration in 2006. Everyone in attendance relished the rare moment, especially Rock, who has called Colorado home for the past 20 years where he serves as both the assistant principal and athletic director at Wheat Ridge High School.

"It was like we never stopped being around each other just from the texts we sent while planning this," Rock said. "To see these guys and our coaches who led us is amazing."

Which is reminiscent of the first thought that comes to mind when Bruno remembers this group and what they accomplished on that frigid night back in 1996.

"Love," Bruno said. "That’s the first thing that hits me right in the face. They have shirts that say ‘We Are One’… We had this thing, it was kind of a Levittown thing, especially here. Those kids were really tight and I think that was a big part of our success."

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