The team was left for dead eight weeks ago, and that’s what made Sunday’s loss so painful. What the Northport football team did just to get to this point was nothing short of miraculous.
The Tigers were 0-2 and staring down a schedule that included heavyweights Sachem North and Floyd. Northport stunned Sachem. Then the Tigers beat Floyd. Six wins later and Coach Kip Lukralle’s team was in the playoffs.
“For them to step up and show what we’re all about and win six in a row – that’s phenomenal,” Lukralle said.
It was there for the taking Sunday against Sachem East. But the sixth-seeded Flaming Arrows unleashed a physical rushing attack to upend No. 3 Northport, 18-7, in a Suffolk Division I quarterfinal.
Flaming Arrows senior running back Steven Casali ran for 174 yards on 30 carries and scored twice to power Sachem East (5-4) on to the semifinals for the second straight season.
“We call it the beast,” Sachem East Coach Mark Wojciechowski said of his star running back. “He just turns it. He changes into this guy who won’t be denied. I don’t know how many times he got hit in the backfield. I don’t know how many times he ran guys over.”
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Sachem East jumped in front 6-0 when Kenneth Whigham recovered a fumble and returned it 66 yards to the Northport 1-yard-line. Casali scored on the next play.
Northport (6-3) took the lead when Brett Hall caught a Sean Gilroy screen pass and weaved down the right sideline for a 51-yard touchdown. Matt Smith’s extra point put the Tigers in front 7-6 with 1:29 left in the first quarter.
That’s how it remained until just before intermission when Sachem East capped a 15-play, 95-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown strike from Danny Wolff to a leaping Brian Balsamo. Wolff’s two-point pass attempt fell incomplete as the Flaming Arrows took a 12-7 advantage into halftime.
Casali opened the third quarter with two straight carries, each more impressive than the next. Then he found the edge and rumbled 20 yards down to the Northport 26. The line blew a hole in the Tigers’ front on the next and Casali jetted 26 yards for the score. That’s four carries for 65 yards.
“I think we played pretty good defense,” Lukralle said. “They scored 18 points and one of the touchdowns was on a 1-yard drive. You can’t fault the defense.”
The Flaming Arrows, who combined to score 27 points over the previous three games, accounted for 270 yards in the win. Physical play up front defined the second half as Casali ran for 127 yards and the defense held Northport scoreless.
The Tigers drove to the Sachem 5 with 1:58 left, but Danny Corbett tipped away a fourth-down pass in the end zone to deny Northport. Lukralle said he considered sending out his kicker to attempt a short field goal and extend the game, but ultimately opted for his offense to get the job done.
It was a rough day for the offense. Gilroy completed 11 of 27 passes for 168 yards and one score. Several passes were dropped, but the Sachem defense was a factor too.
“It really showed a lot of character on our part coming back from 0-2 and winning our last six,” said senior running back John Trainor, who led Northport with 44 yards on 10 carries. The offense managed 77 yards on the ground. “Today we just didn’t get the job done.”
Suffolk Division I Football QuarterfinalTeams 1 2 3 4 F Sachem East 6 6 6 0 18 Northport 7 0 0 0 7
SE – Casali 1 run (kick failed)
N – Hall 51 pass from Gilroy (Smith kick)
SE – Balsamo 18 pass from Wolff (pass failed)
SE – Casali 26 run (kick failed)
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