The Syosset sideline erupted as the defense bounded off the field in ecstasy. For the second time in less than two minutes the Braves had reason to celebrate.
After East Meadow fumbled away a possession at the Braves’ 15-yard-line with 2:03 to go, the Jets got one last opportunity in the waning seconds.
“We thought we were done,” said Syosset senior safety Anthony Carchietta, who ripped the ball away. “There was two minutes left. We had the ball. All the offense had to do was get a first down.”
Instead the Braves were forced to punt.
East Meadow drove 30 yards and lined up to kick the go-ahead field goal – a 35-yarder with 19 seconds left – but the attempt barely cleared the outstretched arms of defenders and fell short of the crossbar.
All that remained was for senior quarterback Hunter Gross to take a knee on a wild, 15-13, Syosset road win Thursday in a Nassau Conference I football opener for two programs with playoff aspirations.
“We have 20 seniors and return nine of 11 starters,” Carchietta said. “We’re pumped. We think we can play with anyone.”
Senior kicker Travis Hammer nailed a 25-yard field goal to give Syosset a 15-13 lead with 7:06 remaining. Gross set up the decisive score with a twisting, 13-yard scramble – spinning out of tackles – down the left sideline on third-and-17.
“I knew at some point in the game I’d have to hit a pretty important field goal,” said Hammer, who worked with a kicking specialist during the week, a session that boosted his confidence.
It worked. Not only did he hammer the winning kick, his late-game punts into a stiff wind forced East Meadow to do that much more.
“Field position was a huge part of the game in the second half,” Syosset Coach Paul Rorke said. “[Hammer] deserves a lot of credit for what happened.”That wrested the momentum away from fourth-seeded East Meadow, which scored back-to-back touchdowns to erase a 12-0 hole.
Syosset, the preseason No. 6 seed, caught an early break too. The Braves blocked a punt and started their second possession at the East Meadow 4. Senior running back Brandon Nieves scored on a 4-yard burst on third down for a 6-0 edge just 4:39 into the game.
The Braves made it 12-0 on Gross’ 1-yard keeper to finish a nine-play, 70-yard drive with 1:35 left in the first quarter.
“We’re a pretty good ball club,” said Gross, who ran the offense at break-neck speed.
East Meadow answered. And the Jets did it with the best player in Nassau County on the sideline in a cast. East Meadow’s Billy Andrle was just the second junior to ever win the Thorp Award. As fate would have it, the electrifying running back and pass rusher was not in pads.
Andrle injured his right hand in practice – which required surgery – forcing him to miss the season opener. That’s 23 touchdowns – equal to Syosset’s entire scoring output in 2012 – on the bench.
“That’s not an excuse,” East Meadow Coach Vinny Mascia said. “Obviously in a two-point game you’d think a Thorp Award-winner would make a difference. But we have enough weapons.”
Junior John Wilson’s 2-yard touchdown run got the Jets ignited with 8:15 left in the third. Billy Leonard’s extra point closed the gap to 12-7. East Meadow scored again on its next possession, a 10-play, 57-yard march capped by quarterback Adam Arbuse’s 2-yard dive to close the third.
But Arbuse was run down and sacked by Syosset’s David Reiter to dash the Jets’ two-point play, a fateful stop that changed the entire complexion of the game. Instead of a 15-12 lead, the Jets were ahead by one.
East Meadow hits the road to face preseason favorite Massapequa Sept. 21 at 1:30 p.m.
"It's Game 1. We got a whole schedule to play," Mascia said. "We got to come out fighting, stick together and figure this out."
Nassau Conference I Football
Teams……….……..….1…..2…..3…..4 – F
Syosset………....…..12…..0…..0…..3 – 15
East Meadow….....….0…..0...13…..0 – 13
S – Nieves 4 run (kick failed)
S – Gross 1 run (run failed)
EM – Wilson 2 run (Leonard kick)
EM – Abruse 2 run (run failed)
S – Hammer 25 FG
Editor's Note: Look for more game photos Friday.