In a fitting end to what is fast becoming a great rivalry in local high school sports, the Eastport South Manor football team survived a furious final drive by Westhampton Beach with a goal line stand inside its own 1-yard line as time ran out, to preserve an important Division III season-opening victory, 13-12, in Manorville on Saturday.
It’s the first-ever win for the Sharks over the Hurricanes and it snapped a four-game losing streak to their eastern neighbor. Eastport South Manor had been outscored by Westhampton Beach by an average 44-15 in the previous contests.
When Eastport South Manor’s quarterback Luke Combs scored from 13 yards out on a keeper to give his team the lead with 1:26 left in the game, a win looked all but certain for the Sharks. After all, Eastport South Manor’s defense had held the Hurricanes scoreless in the second half.
But the Hurricanes stormed back on the arm and legs of quarterback Cory Schulz and a 12-play drive that covered nearly 65 yards in little time thanks to good clock management. Schulz connected on four passes in the final 80 seconds and picked up 17 yards on a keeper before he came up just inches short of the goal line on a third down quarterback keeper from the Sharks’ 3-yard line as time expired.
For the Sharks, it was a terrific goal line stand that came at just the right time. With Eastport South Manor already playing without its biggest and arguably best lineman, 6-foot-5-inch defensive tackle Sean Karl, Colin Flaherty and the Sharks defensive line came up big.
Eastport South Manor entered the game as the pre-season’s third seeded team while Westhampton Beach came in as the sixth in the 14-team division.
Westhampton Beach coach Bill Parry decided not to go for the game-winning field goal at the end of the game. With 4.5 seconds left, Parry called the keeper. The field goal attempt would have been from 20 yards out, about the equivalent of an extra-point kick.
However, Westhampton Beach had already missed an extra point kick attempt in the first minute of the game after Hurricane Brian Curry returned the game’s opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. The snap and hold went awry, and the Hurricanes walked away with a 6-0 lead.
The Sharks immediately responded with a touchdown of their own as Combs (12/16 passing, 115 yards) and All-County running back Allen Henderson (18 carries, 103 yards) keyed a seven-play, 66-yard scoring drive. Combs connected on his first two passes for 19 yards and 7 yards to Flaherty and Garrett Bavosa, respectively, before he gained another 17 yards on a keeper. Henderson then took over and carried on three of the next four plays including a scamper from 12 yard out to tie the game at 6-6. The point after kick was good for a 7-6 Eastport South Manor advantage.
Westhampton Beach put together its lone sustained scoring drive of the game midway through the second quarter and it didn’t take long thanks to a key pass and catch by Cory Schulz and his cousin Jesse Schulz. Beginning at his team’s 15, Cory Schulz hit Jesse Schulz on the run down the sideline as he got behind Eastport South Manor’s Ryan McCormick. McCormick came up with a touchdown saving tackle as he caught Schulz from behind at the Sharks’ 32-yard line.
Five plays later, Antonio Garcia blasted through the left side and pummeled Tom Marone at the goal line for the score. The two-point pass attempt failed leaving the Hurricanes with a 12-7 lead.
The Eastport South Manor game-winning drive came largely on the talents of Combs and Henderson. The Sharks used 12 plays and covered 78 yards and converted on third down three times during the possession. Combs connected on all four of his passes including a big one on third and three from his own 39-yard line. That’s when Flaherty made a nice leaping fingertip catch for an 11-yard pickup.
Combs came up big again when he was flushed out of the pocket on third down and five at the Westhampton Beach 35-yard line and while on the run hit McCormick for an 8-yard gain. Three plays later Combs scored to give his team the lead, 13-12. The two-point pass failed.
The win was an important one for Eastport South Manor, which now travels to the season’s pre-season favorite, Sayville, this Thursday at 3:30 p.m. Sayville defeated Huntington 34-21, on Saturday. Westhampton Beach also faces a short work week as they go to Hauppauge this Thursday for a 3:30 p.m. game with the Eagles. Hauppauge defeated Harborfields last week in its opener, 28-14.