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Football Tops Mercy in Thriller for the Ages

September 17, 2011

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‘They didn’t win last night, did they?’

‘They couldn’t have.’  As I slapped my alarm clock this morning I couldn’t help but think that as I emerged from the haze of my ethereal dreamworld I had also left behind my joyful memories of last night’s game.  My mind grasped for something concrete.  ‘Didn’t our starting quarterback get knocked out of the game in the 1st quarter?  Didn’t we fumble the ball 4 times?  Didn’t our backup quarterback battle leg cramps the entire game?  No, we did not win last night.’

But then, as my mind continued to shake off the opiate of sleep, other memories materialized out of the fog.  ‘Wait… Liotine’s 80-yard touchdown run with no time on the clock did happen.  And Andrew White’s kickoff return touchdown… that happened too.  And with the game on the line the defense did finally stuff the potent Pat Stepnoski.  And yes, even the bold exhortations of Dmitry Borisov, those were real too.’  Last night did actually happen and as that reality dawned on my drowsy mind a broad smile stretched across my face.  They had done it.  In one of the most exciting football games in years, the Bears overcame a season’s worth of adversity to win a wild shootout with archrival Mercy beneath the Friday night lights.

1st Quarter

The biggest concern heading into the game was whether our defense could shackle Mercy’s offensive catalyst, Pat Stepnoski (#10), and stop a Monarch offense that scored 40 points against us a year ago.  It looked as though they just might as they shut down Mercy on their opening series with the help of a deflected pass by Jerome Washington and a ferocious sack by Andrew White.  However, the jitters that plagued our first two drives against Wyandanch last week seemed to return as we fumbled the ball away on just our second play.  The defense rose to the challenge again, forcing a 3 and out punt with 4 minutes left in the 1st quarter.  The punt was an absolute gem as the Monarchs were able to down the ball on our own 1 yard line.

With their backs literally against the wall, having run just 2 offensive plays, the blue and white responded.  The first 3 plays didn’t yield much, but coach Kris Ryan boldly elected to go for it on 4th down and a long scramble by quarterback Marco Masakayan followed, placing us deep in enemy territory.  The very next play would be Masakayan’s last, but what a play to go out on.  With his legs wrapped up, Masakayan had the presence of mind to find Donnie Liotine with a short pass.  Our eyes followed Liotine who ran for a first down into the red zone after driving through two tackles, but as the dust settled we saw Masakayan laying on the turf in pain.  As he walked off of the field the packed stands of Buyers’ Park couldn’t help but worry: ‘Is that it?  Is all of the hype surrounding this team over now?  How could a team with just 24 names on its active roster have an able backup quarterback?’  It certainly seemed like we had plenty to worry about as the boys fumbled on the very next play, thankfully recovering, but what would unfold over the next 3 quarters would defy belief. | 0-0

2nd Quarter

From the looks of the opening 12 minutes it looked as though it would be a defensive struggle.  Little did we know 78 points would be scored over the remaining 36 minutes.  The 2nd quarter began with a 3rd and goal for the Bears, a situation that would prove to be a watershed moment in the game.  During the break between quarters the Mercy coach exhorted his players with these words: “In every season you get one chance to do something great.  This is your chance!  You can either let them score a 99-yard touchdown or you can stuff them and shove it down their throats!”  On the ensuing play it looked as though the Monarchs would respond to their leader and grab the game’s momentum as backup quarterback Wyatt Piazza was tackled while scrambling.  Coach Ryan elected to go for it on 4th down and in a huge play Piazza found Washington in the back right corner of the end zone for the first score of the game.  In retrospect it was a momentous shot in the arm for the boys who needed a lift in the absence of their field general.  Piazza then found Washington again, who went over the top for a difficult grab, on the two point conversion for an 8-0 lead with just a minute gone in the quarter.

Our boys were riding high, but on Mercy’s next drive Stepnoski finally came off of his leash.  The indomitable back ran for a long first down then, after a face mask penalty gave Mercy an automatic first down, he ran for 2 more first downs prompting coach Ryan to encourage his team: “Overcome adversity boys!”  Stepnoski eventually took it into the end zone  and after an extra point the Monarchs closed to within 8-7 with 8:50 left in the quarter.  Mercy would continue to pile on the ensuing kickoff we fumbled the ball right back to the green and gold and after 3 first downs they found paydirt again with 4:18 remaining.  After the extra point sailed wide left the Monarchs had a 13-8 edge.

The silver domes were hanging as the boys tried to wrap their minds around the abrupt changes in momentum that had occurred over the last 10 minutes.  They were in need of a serious boost of confidence and everyone in attendence felt that this next drive would have an impact on the game’s outcome.  Enter Andrew White.  The dynamic junior scored a huge punt return touchdown last week to break the game open vs. Wyandanch and his incredible display of speed and agility was on full display again last night.  White caught the kick on the right side of the field and in the blink of an eye had slipped to the left side and charged up the sideline for a monumental score.  An option to Liotine gave us the 2 point conversion as we vaulted back into a 16-13 lead, needing just 16 seconds to do it.

The defense forced the Monarchs to punt, but Piazza had to leave the game with leg cramps, leading to an ugly offensive series that resulted in a punt of our own.  The Monarchs got the ball back with 1:51 left in the half, but after the defense forced 3 incomplete passes we gained back possession after just 24 seconds ticked off the clock.  The offense continued to sputter until Liotine raced for a first down, only to see it brought back by a penalty.  It looked as though the half was all but over and the crowd was content to go into the break with a 16-13 lead, but little did they know they were about to witness one of the single greatest plays in Stony Brook football history.

With 25 seconds remaining in the half and the ball on the 20 yard line Piazza optioned to Liotine who began to race up the right sideline.  As he thundered down the field the excitement of the crowd swelled.  When he spun out of a tackle at the Mercy 25-yard line and raced forward, putting his hand on the ground to stabilize himself, the roar reached a crescendo and Liotine crossed the goal line with 00:00 showing on the clock!  The run defied logic. It was incredible.  Miraculous.  Awe-inspiring.  Astounding.  Remarkable.  Extraordinary.  Mind-blowing.  In fact, the English language does not contain enough words to aptly describe Liotine’s run.  It was simply the #1 play of the year just 3 weeks into the fall season.  It was a play that on alumni weekends for years to come our students will reminisce with, “Hey, do you remember that run by Donnie Liotine?” | 22-13

3rd Quarter

Liotine’s legendary run warmed up the crowd on the chilly night as this heavyweight battle resumed.  Mercy responded after the intermission with a long kickoff return, followed by a first down run by Stepnoski on 4th and 3 and then a touchdown from the versatile back.  The extra point attempt sailed wide left again, but the Monarchs had sliced their deficit to 22-19.  On the kickoff Liotine picked up right where he left off as he brought the short kick back to the Mercy 20 yard line.  On the next play Taylor Colucci dropped a tipped pass in the end zone, but then came up with a big first down to continue the drive.  From there Liotine took care of the rest by muscling his way through 2 hits and into the end zone for his 2nd score.  After Liotine hit the PAT the Brook pushed their lead back to 29-19 with 9:07 left.

In a game that reminded one of two boxers landing haymakers left and right, Mercy marched back down the field on their next drive and on a 4th and goal attempt Stepnoski barely it into the end zone.  After the two point conversion the Bears led 29-27.  The blue and white absorbed Mercy’s punch and landed one of their own, but not before another fumble to begin the drive.  After we recovered our mishap, Liotine, in for Piazza who was out with a leg cramp, threw the ball to Washington who caught the ball, raced past the Monarch secondary and crossed the goal line for his 2nd score of the game, a huge answer by the Brook.  We missed the PAT but had pushed our advantage to 35-27 with 1:49 remaining in the period.  The question became, in this firefight, who was going to get the first stop?  Our defense responded first with a forced punt and on our next offensive drive White scored what looked to be a game-breaking touchdown on a perfect option play, but it was called back on a holding call. | 35-27

4th Quarter

As this epic reached its final chapter, the Bears faced a 4th and 7.  In need of a big play, Piazza found Washington who used his size and jumping ability to go over the top of his cornerback and gain a huge first down to keep the drive alive.  Penalties continued to plague us, however, as 2nd first down to Washington was brought back by an illegal formation.  It was Liotine who again led the way for his team as he took an option and raced up the left sideline, scampering into the end zone untouched for his 3rd score.  He scrambled into the end zone on the next play for a 43-27 lead with 8:05 left in the game.  For the Stony Brook faithful all eyes turned to the clock which, in this one, could not tick away fast enough.

A big kickoff return was just what Mercy needed as they ate up yardage without wasting a lot of time.  2 first downs followed, the second on a 4th down as the Monarch machine, led by Stepnoski, continued to churn upfield.  They found the end zone with 5:18 left and then scored a controversial two point conversion when a penalty was mysteriously waived off.  With the Bears’ lead down to 43-35, they were still in control and a long possession would still place Mercy on the ropes, but the breaks continued to go the green and gold’s way when they recovered an onside kick to retain possession.  The Monarchs moved the chains for two first downs with 2:59 remaining and it seemed as though Stepnoski would get 10 yards at will.  A false start with 2:24 left stalled the drive, pushing them back 5 yards, but they got another first down with 1:28 left.

This marathon of a game moved into its final moments and for the Bears to pull out the win the responsibility would fall squarely on the shoulder pads of the defense.  Who else but Liotine stepped up with a huge swat on 2nd and 10, coming across the entire field to deny Mercy’s receiver.  At 1:15 another pass fell incomplete and the defense stared at a 4th and 10, needing one stop to secure the victory.  The crowd rose to its feet, the coaches barked instructions and the Bears tried desperately to zone it all out and focus on their roles.  Legs burned with lactic acid.  Muscles ached.  Breaths came fast and shallow.  The ball was mercifully snapped and as the Monarch’s pass attempt fell harmlessly to the turf as the blue and white sideline erupted.  The boys kneeled out the rest of the clock and then raced off the field in celeration to the delight of the biggest football crowd in years. | 43-35

Impressions

It was a great game by any standard.  Both teams showed tremendous heart and there was never a dull moment as exciting plays followed each other in quick succession.  What made this one so sweet, despite the fact that it came against Mercy, could be summed up in coach Ryan’s encouragement during the 2nd quarter: “Overcome adversity boys!”  Overcome is exactly what they did.  How many teams, after losing their starting quarterback, could respond how our boys did?  There were heroes all over the field last night.  Liotine, White, Washington and Piazza all had to hobble off the field at different points, but others stepped up in their absence and each of them persevered in the midst of pain.  Everyone rose to the occasion, doing what was asked of them and playing their roles with courage.  Spencer Cannon took coach Ryan’s stern admonishment to heart and stepped up his play in the middle, Jake Harrington helped plug up the run when we needed stops, and the entire offensive and defensive lines continued to fight their way forward.  Something could be said of every player that stepped onto Fitch Field last night.

The most impressive thing is how the boys responded and stayed mentally tough as Mercy continually put pressure on them.  Whenever we needed a big play we got it: Washington’s 4th down TD grab, White’s kickoff return TD, Liotine’s indefinable 80-yard run, Liotine’s long kickoff return and score, Washington’s catch and run and Liotine’s final touchdown to put us up 2 scores.  The Bears answered every single time they needed to and the result was one of the most thrilling games in recent memory and one we won’t stop talking about for days.

The Bears will put their undefeated record on the line next Friday night as they travel to Greenport, the #6 ranked team in Newsday’s preseason Division IV poll.

Notes

This is the football team’s first victory over Mercy since September 11, 2009 when Tory Abrahamsen found Lesedi Malete for a 60 yard touchdown with under 2 minutes left to earn the win… This is our first victory in a home opener since September 26, 2008 when Brian Harrington’s 30-yard field goal provided the winning margin vs. Center Moriches… This is the first time the Bears have started 2-0 since 2006… The Bears, who managed 111 total points last season, have scored 81 points through their first 2 games… This is the greatest offensive output in the first 2 games of a season since the 2006 team racked up 91 after mustering just 97 the entire season before… The Bears have now defeated 2 teams ranked in front of them in Newsday’s preseason football poll.

Box Score

Passing

  • Piazza | 4/6 for 120 yards/2 TD
  • Liotine | 1/1 for 52 yards/1 TD
  • Masakayan | 1/1 for 34 yards

Receiving

  • Liotine | 2 receptions for 112 yards/1 TD
  • Washington | 3 receptions for 79 yards/2 TD
  • Colucci | 1 reception for 15 yards

Rushing

  • Masakayan | 1 attempt for 47 yards
  • Liotine | 11 attempts for 45 yards/2 TD

Defense

  • White | 1 sack

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark Maningo permalink
    September 17, 2011 7:32 PM

    Lots of good athletes on the Stony Brook School campus…

    Like

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