In a game defined by numerous big plays by Mepham’s stout defense, it was cornerback James Murray made the biggest one of all when he swatted away a potential game-tying pass from Calhoun quarterback Nicholas Turrini in the corner of the end zone as time expired, sealing a 14-7 road victory for the Pirates against their crosstown and Conference II rival.
The play was preceded by a fierce Calhoun drive with just over two minutes left to bring the ball to the Mepham 10-yard line. One play earlier, Calhoun kept its hopes alive with a n improbable catch off a deflected pass by wide receiver Matthew Marziliano with two seconds remaining to set up the final dramatic play.
Already playing without seniors Nicholas Cucinella and Anthony Novella because of injuries, Mepham was dealt another blow early against Calhoun when their starting quarterback, junior Sean White, left the game in the second quarter with a broken collarbone following a big hit.
The injury forced Mepham to alter its game plan, rotating star linebacker, junior Matthew Hegi, behind center to perform mostly run option plays, and backup quarterback, sophomore William Kender.
“We just fought through it and fought through adversity,” Mepham head coach Anthony Cracco said. “We talked all week to the guys about how to go from a good team to a great team you have to have a signature win. Being shorthanded and coming over to our crosstown rivals seeded ahead of you, this is a huge win for the program. I couldn’t be prouder of the kids.”
Having entered the game with identical records, Mepham now shares second place in the conference, by wins, not power points, with MacArthur at 4-1, while Calhoun, at 3-2, is tied with three other schools for third place.
The game started well for Mepham, when senior Gianni Macchio broke a 67-yeard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage to give the Pirates the early lead, 6-0, after the extra point was blocked.
Calhoun responded immediately. A stellar kickoff return by Marziliano brought the ball to the Mepham 35-yard-line, setting up a successful drive capped by a 9-yard touchdown run by Ariel DeJesus to put Calhoun on top, 7-6.
The score stayed that way until the fourth quarter. Kender, who was behind center when Mepham needed to air it out, found his rhythm late, hitting receiver Elias Koukoulis for a 40-yard bomb. The drive ended with a punt, but Mepham came right back down the field on their next possession, and a perfectly timed pass by Kender on a slant route to receiver Anthony Paolillo gave the Pirates a first-and-goal from the Colts’ two-yard line. The next play, Hegi punched it in on a quarterback sneak to give Mepham the lead for good.
It was a disappointing ending for Calhoun after a hard-fought defensive battle by both sides, and just two weeks after an equally heartbreaking loss to MacArthur by one point.
“It’s a tough one to lose,” Calhoun head coach Brian Moeller. “Our boys are really good boys. They fought hard to the end. Mepham’s a good team and maybe we’ll see them in the playoffs.”
Next up, Mepham hosts Manhasset this Saturday, while Calhoun will remain home against two-time defending county and L.I. champion Garden City.