A record-setting offense that averaged more than 50 points paved Lawrence’s way to the Long Island Class III championship game and a shot of redemption against Sayville. Last Friday night, a vastly improved defense made the difference for the Golden Tornadoes in the second half of a rematch that started slow but eventually lived up to all the hype.
Senior Eddie Robinson’s 30-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:25 remaining, followed by senior Michael Fragner’s extra-point, gave Lawrence a thrilling come-from-behind 21-20 victory over the Golden Flashes before a crowd of 2,500 at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
It’s the first L.I. title for the Golden Tornadoes (12-0) since 2006 when they nipped Bellport, 28-27, for the Class II crown.
“Once I caught the ball and saw all that turf in front of me, there was no way they were keeping me out of the end zone,” Robinson said. “Nobody really talked about our defense all year, but it was awesome. Defense wins championships.”
After allowing three touchdowns and 215 yards in an opening half that ended with Sayville holding a 20-7 lead, Lawrence’s defense, under the direction of coordinator Jason Supple, pitched a shutout in the second half while yielding only 63 yards. Senior John Perrone led the unit with six tackles and 2.5 sacks.
“It was as tough as we expected it to be,” said Lawrence junior quarterback Joe Capobianco, who went 18 of 24 for 209 yards and one touchdown — to senior John Ganas — and also rushed for a score despite being sacked eight times. “It’s an incredible feeling,” he added. “It’s what we’ve been working for since we lost to Sayville last year. We’ve got a great bunch of guys and a great coaching staff.”
The game was nothing like last year’s state-record shootout between the teams at Stony Brook when the Golden Tornadoes scored 61 points and lost by 17. The rematch saw only about half the yardage (530) and a combined seven punts.
“This season began as soon as last season ended,” Lawrence head coach Joe Martillotti said. “I’m so proud of this team and all the coaches. Everyone stuck together and finished the job, and now we can enjoy it for the rest of our lives.
“This was such a physical game,” he added. “To win it is really special.”
Faced with a two-score deficit for the first time since last year’s LIC after Sayville’s James Giattino weaved his way through the defense for a 41-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Donald DeKenipp with 54 seconds remaining in the first half, the Golden Tornadoes had a fourth-and-4 from their own 31-yard line on the opening possession of the third quarter. Martillotti kept his offense on the field.
“It was a big risk, but I have so much confidence in our offense and felt we needed to score on that possession to get back in the game,” he said.
A 13-yard reception by sophomore Jordan Fredericks kept the drive alive. Fredericks followed with a 14-yard completion to Robinson on a halfback option, and had a leaping 24-yard catch to set up Capobianco’s 5-yard touchdown run that brought Lawrence within 20-14.
With Capobianco’s counterpart, Golden Flashes quarterback Zach Sirico, on the sideline with an ankle injury suffered on a 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, standout back John Haggart had Sayville (11-1) in position to score on the ensuing drive but on fourth-and-4 from the Lawrence 10, senior Tyler Fredericks picked off DeKenipp and returned the ball to midfield.
After Sayville’s defense made its second red-zone stop of the night, sacking Capobianco at the 16 with 6:23 left in the fourth quarter, its offense was pinned deep and faced with third-and-12 when pressure from junior Vincent Vota forced the errant pass in Robinson’s direction.
Lawrence’s defense came up big one last time, with Tyler Fredericks and senior Florian Capobianco stopping Matthew Selts short of a first down on fourth-and-1 from the Sayville 48.
“This means the world to us,” Robinson said.